Hooked, finally


(King Salmon, Alaska) – Day three of the Project Healing Waters Alaska trip to Bristol Bay began at 5:30 a.m. yesterday with a hearty breakfast at Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge, and the knowledge this would be the last chance for the military women on the trip to catch some fish.

Expectations ran high because everyone in the group had landed several kings and silver salmon over the past couple of days, all except for Navy veteran Rebekah White, a cancer survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder and other injuries stemming from six years in the service. Over the last couple of days, the disabled vet and recent college graduate had hooked a few salmon but she had yet to bring any aboard the boat. As the day wore on, White’s spirits flagged.  Everyone wanted to stay on the river until her luck changed but our plane back to Anchorage was leaving in a few hours. Time was running short.

As the sun burned off the morning fog, things changed suddenly. White had just bitten into a turkey and cheese sandwich when her rod sharply snapped. Her line took off as a large king struggled to free itself from White’s hook.

“Get it! Get it!” yelled lodge owner and guide Nanci Morris Lyon.

Nanci Morris Lyon (Photo by Paula Dobbyn)

White worked the rod, giving it all she had while uttering the occasional expletive. Unlike the previous day — when either her line snapped or the fish spat out the hook — White successfully reeled the fish – a 30-something-pound king – close enough so that Lyon could net, unhook and haul it overboard.

“Yes! I finally got my king!” White shouted, sheer joy radiating from her face. The rest of us hooted and hollered.

Rebekah White (Photo by Paula Dobbyn)

We trolled for a while longer but the salmon proved elusive. That was okay. Over the past three days, the group had done well. We each flew back to Anchorage with 30-pound boxes filled with fresh, vacuum-sealed king and silver fillets. 

Project Healing Waters Alaska Womens Trip to Bristol Bay, July 2013, (Photo by Paula Dobbyn)

Another Project Healing Waters trip, successfully in the bag.

The trip was made possible with support from Trout Unlimited, Project Healing Waters Alaska, and Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge, and others including VFW Post 9785 of Eagle River, Alaska, VFW Post 3629 of Fairbanks, VFW Post 9365 of Wasilla, American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary Post 15, both of Palmer, Alaska.

Posted in Alaska, Conservation, Save Bristol Bay, Veterans Service Program | Leave a comment

Landing kings on the Naknek

(King Salmon, Alaska) – We’re just finishing up Day 2 of a three-day, three-night trip to Bristol Bay with Project Healing Waters Alaska. Showers are being taken and appetizers are on the way. The aroma wafting from the kitchen suggests that grilled, freshly caught king salmon is soon to emerge on dinner plates.

It’s hot and sunny outside by Alaska standards – high 70s this afternoon with the sun reflecting powerfully off the water. Early evening now, it’s still T-shirt and shorts temperatures — very rare for these parts.

Four women veterans and active-duty service members are here at Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge, a luxury lodge on the Naknek River operated by legendary Alaska sport fishing guide, Nanci Morris Lyon. The all-women’s trip is a partnership of Trout Unlimited, PHW, Bear Trail Lodge and a variety of veteran-service organizations.

Project Healing Waters Alaska group at Bear Trail Lodge

After arriving Thursday night to a dinner of king crab and settling into comfy beds a couple of hours later, we set off early yesterday in a soupy fog. It burned off about midday, requiring us to strip off layers and slather on the sunscreen. We spent a total of about nine hours on the Naknek, famed for its trophy rainbow trout and king salmon. Nanci took a group of three of us up the river, trolling for kings. Head guide, Kate Taylor, led the remaining military women and a television reporter in her boat.

The morning started off slowly. The group I accompanied – including Army Staff Sergeant Tabatha Adams and Navy veteran Rebekah White – was getting antsy. The women wanted to catch salmon to send home to their families. And Nanci did not disappoint.

Nanci Morris Lyon and Tabitha Adams

After arriving at one of her favorite fishing holes – we’ll keep the name to ourselves – we witnessed a virtual aquarium of very large king salmon swimming beneath the boat. Fishing began in earnest, and suffice to say, many, many pounds of king salmon were successfully landed.

Tabitha Adams, Rebekah White and Nanci Morris Lyon

“That’s a mega-amount of meat, girls,” said Nanci, after throwing the last one into the hold.

Smiles and high-fives defined the afternoon. Between the sun and the hot fishing, the fillet table on the dock was a scene of utter giddiness.

The trip continues tomorrow.

Posted in Alaska, Fly Fishing, Save Bristol Bay, Veterans Service Program | Leave a comment

And they’re off (to Bristol Bay!)

By Nelli Williams, TU Alaska, Deputy Director

Project Healing Waters Alaska/Trout Unlimited trip to Bristol Bay, Departing from Anchorage

Yesterday afternoon I was delighted to be able to send off these lucky women from Anchorage.  These military vets and active-duty members are on their way to Bristol Bay to fish on the Naknek River for three days.  TU is proud to team up with Project Healing Waters Alaska, Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge, VFW Posts in Wasilla, Eagle River and Fairbanks, and the American Legion Post  and Women’s Auxillary Post in Palmer to offer this once-in-a-lifetime experience as a small way to say thank you for all they have done to help our country.

 Judging from the excitement on their faces and the words of gratitude for the chance to get to fish in such legendary place — it’s going to be a great few days for these women.  I can’t think of another group that is more deserving of this trip.  Have a great time ladies!  I look forward to hearing some fishing reports (and photos) in the next couple days.

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Women Military Head to Bristol Bay on Project Healing Waters Trip

It’s common these days to hear about groups of service members or veterans heading off to sport fish on trips sponsored by the non-profit Project Healing Waters and partner organizations, including Trout Unlimited. But the trips are usually comprised mostly of men.

Not so this week in Alaska. An all-female group of veterans and active-duty military personnel are traveling to Bristol Bay – one of the world’s most famous fishing spots – on a three-day, three-night sport fishing trip courtesy of TU and partners.

Alaska Sportsman's Bear Trail Lodge on the Naknek River

TU, together with Alaska Sportsmen’s Bear Trail Lodge, Project Healing Waters Alaska, and a variety of veterans-service groups are sponsoring the once-in-a-lifetime trip. The group will stay at the exclusive Bear Trail Lodge and fish for rainbow trout, king and sockeye salmon, and northern pike. Silver, pink and chum salmon are also possible target species.

The women have all suffered injuries related to their military service and, in keeping with Project Healing Waters’ mission, the purpose of the trip is to help them heal through time on the water.

“Providing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is a small way we can say thanks for all these women have done to defend our country.  Bristol Bay is a national icon and a place that is truly worth fighting for. We’re so pleased to be able to offer a small group of women the chance to see Bristol Bay.  Women anglers and women veterans are two rapidly expanding segments of our population. This trip serves as a unique opportunity to bring women together, and to spend some healing time on the river with other women anglers,” said trip organizer Nelli William, Deputy Director of TU’s Alaska Program.

All of the participants are based in Alaska. One of them is Rebekah White, who served in the Navy until 2006. A cancer survivor, White is disabled and experiences post-traumatic stress and other injuries.

“I am so excited to go on this women’s trip to Bristol Bay. This trip will be healing for me because I know that there will be women there that have gone through some of the same experiences that I have. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to experience something as amazing as this!  I truly feel blessed,” said White.

Check back for updates on the trip, which runs from July 25 to 28.

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See your chapter in a future issue of TROUT

What has your chapter been up to this summer? Have you cleaned up a local river? Taken veteran’s or a kid’s camp fishing? We want to know. Submit a write up of 250-400 words and you could see it in an up coming Actionline section of TROUT magazine.


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Annual Meeting Awards

Nominate your favorite volunteers, projects and partners for TU’s annual meeting awards by August 1. Don’t miss this chance to honor and recognize outstanding grassroots achievement. Fill out an awards nomination form today.

Come see who the big winners are, and join hundreds of your TU compatriots this September in Madison, Wisc. For more information >>

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TU and Vet Voice Foundation take vets fishing to celebrate Independence Day

The crew, East Walker River, TU-VVF vets fishing day 2013

By Dave Lass

I can think of no better way to celebrate Independence Day than by honoring the service of the men and women of our military, who have safeguarded our Constitutional freedoms for more than two centuries. And there’s no better way to spend a day than fly fishing for wild trout on public lands.

So that’s what I and other TU staff and volunteers did on Sunday July 7th: we hosted a crew of vets for a day of fishing for the famous wild trout of the East Walker River.

The East Walker might be the best brown trout fishery in all of California and Nevada (the nearby town of Bridgeport is also one of the best places along the Eastern Sierra to score a great burger and milkshake). The section that is of greatest interest to fly fishers is the 16 miles below Bridgeport Reservoir.

Any stream where you have good odds of catching big numbers of fish, a few of which may be very large, on dries, nymphs, and streamers should be high on anyone’s list of places to visit. Because of this, the East Walker River is just the kind of place you want to take beginner fly fishers.

Veteran Mark Starr enjoys some quality "trout time."

2013 marked the second year in a row that TU has partnered with the Vet Voice Foundation (VVF) to take vets fishing on the East Walker River. TU and VVF are members of the Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership (BHCP), a coalition of conservation and sportsmen’s groups established to help protect the Bodie Hills, an area of rich biodiversity just south of the East Walker that serves as the ecological transition zone – or ecotone – between the Sierra Nevada range to the west and Great Basin to the east.

Two creeks, Arastra and Rough, flow from the Bodie Hills and connect to the East Walker in Nevada just across the California border. Both are listed as candidate cutthroat reintroduction streams in the federal Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan. The Bodies are also one of the only places you can hunt Sage Grouse in California, and many trophy mule deer bucks have been taken here.

A large open-pit gold mine is proposed in the upper Rough Creek drainage in the Bodie Hills. The BHCP opposes this mining operation and is working to permanently conserve the unique natural, historic, and recreational values of the Bodies.

Rigging up. Photo: Nate Lishman

This year, we had seven vets – one who brought his young son — turn out for a day of fly fishing on the East Walker. After getting outfitted by Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport (which donated wading equipment for the occasion), we gathered near the head of the aptly-named “Miracle Mile” on the East Walker, just below Bridgeport Reservoir, and rigged up. Then Scott Freeman, co-owner of Walker River Guides, gave us a few tips and the five TU volunteers who took a day out of their weekend to help paired up with the vets and off we went.

I fished with Mario Rivas from southern California, who spent 11 years as a Marine and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I tied on a size #20 orange Ray Charles scud and #22 WD-40 mayfly on 6x tippet about 3 feet under an indicator. After learning mending and line control for a drag-free drift, Mario quickly began hooking up with fish.

Landing these fish was another story, however. East Walker trout are notoriously fast to spit and shake loose small flies. Mario remained stalwart, a skill he said he learned in his years as a Marine, and landed a nice 17” brown, his first fish – ever.

Plenty of trout in the East Walker…and the scenery ain't bad, either. Photo: Nate Lishman

The veterans all got plenty of “takes,” and most landed fish. But even those who didn’t remarked on how relaxing it was to spend a few hours on a stream, in a scenic place. And they all wanted to do it again next year.

TU is proud to work with organizations like Vet Voice Foundation to help our veterans experience our country’s public lands and rich outdoor legacy. Fishing provides a wonderful medium for connecting with nature and restoring body, mind and soul. And at the end of the day, it felt rewarding to know that we had just created eight new advocates for the East Walker River and for conserving, protecting and restoring our coldwater fisheries here in California.

Dave Lass is California Field Director for Trout Unlimited.

Special thank yous to Mark Starr at Vet Voice Foundation, Jim Reid of Ken’s Sporting Goods, Scott Freeman of Walker River Guides, and awesome TU volunteers Nate Lishman, Jason Cash, Marianne Denton and Brad Jackson.

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Kids Catch Fly Fishing Fever at Second Annual Sierra Trout Camp

The Trout Campers are schooled in the finer points of fly fishing.

By Adam Butler

Sometimes, you cast a fly into a stream that you can step across and get a lot more action than you would expect for such small water.

I was reminded of this on July 6, when Trout Unlimited hosted its second annual Sierra Trout Camp, at the University of California – Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, in the Tahoe National Forest. We cast a bunch of flies, in reality and metaphorically, and hauled in some fish – and some big trout advocates.

15 youths (out of an applicant pool of more than 40) ages nine to eleven came from all corners of the state to participate in this unique event – without a doubt the most advanced and kid-friendly camp of its kind in California.

The application process required a written answer to this simple question: “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fishing?”

Sierra Trout Camp covers everything fly fishing — aquatic entomology, stream ecology, casting, fly tying, the importance of native trout protection and restoration, and river etiquette. It’s kind of like a two-day boot camp — only fun.

"This stream ecology stuff is cool, but when do we get to go fishing?"

Sagehen Creek is one of the focus streams in TU’s Lahontan cutthroat trout restoration project, which seeks to bring back the LCT throughout the greater Truckee River watershed, to which it is the only native salmonid. TU has made LCT recovery a cornerstone project for the Sagehen Field Station, and the initial assessment work is being completed this summer.

It’s a perfect venue for something like the Trout Camp, as it highlights TU’s protection, restoration, and youth outreach work all at the same time.

“When do we get to go fishing?” was the first question most students asked upon arrival.  Now we all know, thanks to Norman MacLean in A River Runs Through It, that “Nobody who [does] not know how to fish [should] be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.” So first, we covered how to set up a rod for fishing, and the difference between a fly cast and conventional methods. We worked with the kids on their casting until everyone was throwing tight loops like a pro.

After a quick lunch, the Trout Campers rolled up their sleeves, got their feet wet and started turning over rocks to find as many aquatic insects that they could. For such a small creek, Sagehen boasts an amazing density of aquatic insects and fish. Each of the students helped to identify multiple stoneflies, mayflies, caddis, even a sculpin or two.

The first day concluded with on-the-water instruction on how to present your flies to fish in different situations and using different techniques, followed by some good old Capture-the-Flag and the Cutter’s movie Bugs of the Underworld.

The next morning, more of our super-volunteers flooded into the field station, each bringing their own vise and tools for the kids to use for that morning’s fly tying instruction.  It‘s really gratifying to see the connection each student made between seeing the “bugs” in the creek the day before and now actually tying a pattern to replicate those bugs. Each student filled their Cabela’s fly boxes with their own flies, and then it was time to put those flies to good use.

Fur and feathers flying at the vise…

It took exactly zero motivational speeches to get the students and their volunteer-guides to scatter across the meadow to do some actual fishing.

Thanks to their newly-honed skills and their talented guides, almost all of the Trout Campers caught a couple of fish.

To pull off an enterprise as ambitious as Sierra Trout Camp requires the skills, time, and resources of a whole lot of people. People such as Ralph and Lisa Cutter, who own and operate the world-famous California Fly Fishing School and are lifelong supporters of Trout Unlimited. The Cutters are renowned for their expertise in aquatic entomology and fly fishing instruction. And they’re marvelous with kids. Ralph and Lisa are the heart of Sierra Trout Camp, preparing the curriculum and delivering most of the instruction.

People such as Kate Blubaugh, an internationally known fly caster out of Reno, Nevada, who served as primary casting instructor.

People like Dan LeCount and Dave Stanley, who, like Kate, took a day off from guiding for Truckee River Outfitters to support us. People such as Craig Oehrli with the Tahoe National Forest, and Jeff Brown, director of the Sagehen Creek Field Station.

People like the leaders and members of TU’s Truckee River, Sac-Sierra, North Bay, and Sagebrush chapters.

Happy campers.

As the Grassroots Organizer for the California Council of Trout Unlimited, I see on a daily basis how committed our members and chapter leaders are to youth education, so that the next generation can carry on our efforts to protect and restore our trout and salmon populations and their habitat, and keep our sporting heritage alive. The Sierra Trout Camp is a remarkable example of this commitment — in action.

After working with enthusiastic kids for a couple of days in a place as beautiful and “fish-critical” as Sagehen Creek, one can’t help but feel that the future for our trout and salmon just got a little brighter.


2013 Sierra Trout Camp patrons: Outdoor Nation and the Sagebrush TU chapter funded the camp.  Cabela’s donated fly boxes, flies, and a fly rod. Smith Optics and Outdoor Specialty Products donated polarized sunglasses. Umpqua Feather Merchants donated hemostats and nippers. Lorraine and Rusty Johnson prepared all the food. Pocket Guides Publishing donated their fly fishing pocket guide.

Super-volunteers: Kevin Mather, Dan Brosier, JJ Plank, Bill Templin, and Don Krueger of Sac-Sierra TU.  Dave Stanley, Kate Blubaugh, and Dan LeCount with Truckee River Outfitters.  Larry Lack with North Bay Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Craig Oehrli with the Tahoe National Forest.  Jill North, Mark de la Garza, and the Lopez parents.

Posted in California, Conservation, Fly Fishing | 1 Comment

Classics: Automatic Reels Powered Their Own Era

ClassicsAs Paul Bruun said in the Summer 2013 issue of TROUT, “Automatice reels are a living history, mostly but not all relegated to E-Bay, antique tackle boxes and decorative store displays.”

Did you every use an automatic reel or do you remember watching a fellow fisherman use one? Tell us about it in the comments.

Posted in All Things Fishing, Trout Magazine | 8 Comments

Casting Call: Fishing at the Capitol

The "stream" at Casting Call 2013.

By Drew Irby, Chair, TU California Council

June 26, 2013: another hot, bright, summer day at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The Capitol’s dome rises handsomely from the elegantly manicured lawns, gardens and over 1000 native trees on this 40-acre complex.

You’d think this an unlikely place to do some fishing, but that’s what I and a dozen other grassroots leaders from Trout Unlimited did that day, as we helped stage our fourth annual Casting Call event.

TU's California Council chair Drew Irby does some "fishing."

Casting Call is the product of a partnership between TU and California Trout. This unique affair aims to educate legislators and the public about the diverse native trout and salmon species we have here (more than any other state besides Alaska) and current initiatives we support that will better conserve and restore these fish and their watersheds.

Flowing through the north lawn of the capitol there is a solitary “stream,” (sidewalk, actually), leading to a large “pool” (patio) in front of the building. This is where we stage Casting Call, which includes free fly-casting lessons, cold water fish education (free ice cream if you answer some “trout trivia”), education about trout and salmon conservation in California, and the highlight of the day: a casting competition between state legislators.

Serious incentive.

As chair of TU’s California Council, I look forward to this event every year. Besides being a great way to connect with people about trout, salmon and steelhead conservation, it’s also become a tradition. Passersby and legislators remember us now. It really is memorable to see a dozen fly rods waving back and forth all day on the lawn in front of the Capitol.

Everyone has their roles at this event. While our State Director, Brian Johnson, and his CalTrout counterpart, Curtis Knight, work the halls and offices of the Capitol, the rest of us plot our “fishing” strategy.

We strategically place our signs and popups along the banks of the ”stream.” We lay out the casting lanes to avoid low branches. Then, we wait for the “hatch” to start coming off the sidewalk. The heaviest hatch is between 11 and 1 when folks are hungry for lunch. We offer them enticements to engage with us, a favorite “pattern” being our now-famous Chinookie cookies.

We also sign up new TU members. I “landed” two free women’s memberships this year.

Then, the “big fish” show up: a team of Republican legislators and a team of Democrat legislators, ready for the casting competition. This friendly rivalry brings out the press and the cameras and is a good time for all. Afterwards, the competitors express their support for clean water, restoration and protection of California’s watersheds, and, of course, their affection for fishing.

Casting Call 2013 – Sen. Hueso casting. Photo: Steve Thao

This year, State Senators Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) and Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) squared off against Assemblymember Brian Dahle (R-Redding) and Assembymember Eric Linder (R-Corona) in the legislators’ casting competition. Sen. Hueso’s practice with TU’s California Field Director Dave Lass earlier in the day paid off, and it’s just possible that this time the Democrats came out ahead.

A number of fish-friendly bills have come out of TU’s work in Sacramento, our Casting Call-type outreach, our regular meetings with legislators, our bi-partisan collaborations. These include bills requiring the State Water Board to maintain adequate flows for coastal streams and anadromous fish species, to reform hatchery operations and production, and to improve funding for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Wild & Heritage Trout Program.

Casting Call is an open, working, democratic process in action. It’s also a lot of fun, and a fine day of “fishing.” As we say on the water, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Posted in California, Conservation, Fly Fishing | Tagged , | Leave a comment