Island Trout - The Coastal Cutthroat

Shearwater Resort and Lodge Trout BC Canada

I spent a good portion of my childhood fishing Northeastern suburban creeks and ponds that bordered golf courses, air force bases and landfills.   Not the prettiest places, but they were hidden gems only found by those willing to wade and bushwhack through woods without trails.  Sometimes I surprised myself that I could find trout where nobody else would think to fish.  I’ve written here several times about my endless fascination with the mystery and adventure of fishing.  And for me, that’s the most important ingredient to a proper fishing excursion.  Sure, I don’t mind catching a fish worthy of being called a trophy, but I’ve quickly learned a trophy doesn’t have to be measured in size.

The popularity of “blue-lining” has increased exponentially over the last several years here in the Southeast.  If you don’t know, blue lining is the exploring of small mountain streams for wild fish in hopes of finding that stretch of water that’s never been, or maybe rarely, fished.  This idea is foreign to some folks, to spend countless hours combing over maps, google earth and logging many miles through fairly rough terrain in search of a fish which, if your lucky, may be 8” in length.  But for me, it’s the mystery and adventure that draws me to this idea of blue lining and leaves me reminiscent of the fishing adventures of my youth.  Especially chasing species that are native and have inhabited these waterways long before my ancestors found their way to this continent. 

Recently, an unexpected opportunity presented itself for a trip filled with these types of unexpected surprises within a completely foreign landscape and made for a memorable and unique fishing experience.  By sheer luck (pun intended), I found myself at Shearwater Resort and Lodge located on Denny Island in British Columbia Canada.  The island itself, home to an ex-World War 2 military installation, is about 11 miles at its widest point.  The island is remote, about halfway between Vancouver Island and Alaska along the Canadian coast.  The island is sparsely populated, but has the luxury of a grocery store, restaurant (with a full bar of course), laundromat, lodge and marina, gas and mooring docks for weary travelers and sailors of the pacific coast looking to stretch their legs on dry land.  It’s an oasis in the middle of what’s mostly an unmolested wild environment.

Shearwater’s greatest sport-fishing attraction is salmon fishing along the rocky fjords and bays of the Pacific coast.  And most anglers are there to stock their freezers with fresh pacific salmon of every variety.  But the fishing adventure I found most unique, and which I would bet 99% of the islands guest don’t even acknowledge is fishing the dozens of backwoods waterways and ponds which hold native cutthroat and rainbow trout.  Of course, I didn’t know this when I arrived, and it wasn’t until a local told me such a thing existed.  Because when you come from a state where most of the trout you catch were born in a concrete trough, having trout live on a remote island seemed absurd.  Some research revealed some pretty cool facts about the trout on the island. 

Both species, are “sea run”, which means they live their lives in coastal streams and rivers and spend a portion of their lives in the ocean. The “steelhead” and the “coastal cutthroat” are species I’ve never had the chance to target. So, crossing these off my list of trout caught was exciting.  Most of the trout I caught were small, trapped my barriers like beaver dams and other obstructions making it near impossible for them to return to the sea.  And to my surprise, they were overly abundant in the small lakes, bogs and connecting creeks. 

And as beautiful and unique as the fish themselves were, the scenery rivaled that of anything I’d ever seen.  Shearwater has given Denny Island the moniker; Gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest.  And as the name suggests, there was plenty of rain, impressively feeding lakes and rivers flowing to the open water from a relatively small island.  The islands landscape ranges from tall coastal pines creating dense, dark forests with ferns covering it’s floor, to trees strung with flowing moss surrounding bogs of spongy, colorful mosaics that can swallow up your leg to your knee. Oh, and let’s not forget I said the word bear just before rainforest.  There were plenty of signs of those as well, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous venturing out by myself into territory and land foreign to me with nothing more than a laser jet printed map from the quaint island grocery store.  But, what’s an adventure without a little fear and anxiety?  In my short time around the island, I was lucky to see plenty of examples proving how untamed this area is.  Humpbacks, seals, sea lions, bald eagles and a grizzly bear all made an appearance.  The one thing I didn’t see, once just outside the small fishing village, were other people.  I shared the waterways and trails with no other soul.

When I returned home from this short trip, I began pouring over the endless neighboring islands, mapping creeks and waterways where opportunities for moderately easy access might exist.  This entire area has endless potential for adventure and fishing.  And although it’s the salmon fillets most are after when venturing to this area, uncharted mystery awaits if it’s a unique adventure in fishing you seek.

PHWFF All Year Gear Drive

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For the last 2 years, we helped participate in the Project Healing Waters (PHWFF) Gear Drives, gathering gently used gear to be recycled for the great purpose of getting our Military Veterans involved in fly fishing and out on the water.  I have to admit the first year was a huge success, honestly better than expected.  However last year, we collected less than half than the first year. 

Regardless of the numbers, I do think those two years helped spread the word that your used gear (which most of us have), can really make a difference and be put to great use.  Several folks have begun sending and bringing into shops their gear to donate, not just during the couple months we were promoting our PHWFF Gear Drives, but throughout the year.  A few things have dawned on me; 1. An “annual” event loses its luster pretty quickly, 2. For most, it’s not feasible to have used gear to give every year, 3. When you are cleaning out your closet and it’s not during the months of the Gear Drive’s, the last thing you want to do is hold onto something waiting to donate.

That being said, we are foregoing the “annual” gear drive, for a different approach.  All Year Gear Drive.  If you are considering a new purchase, first off; consider making it from a local fly shop, secondly, ask them if they may give you a small discount if you were to donate your gently used old gear to Project Healing Waters.  I know several local shops in my area do so, and it doesn’t hurt to ask.  And if you are Spring cleaning, you don’t have hold onto the gear until the end of the year.  Contact your local Project Healing Waters chapter (if you can’t find out who that is, email me), or ask your local shop if they work with Project Healing Waters, and bring it in to them.

We just recently participated in a Project Healing Waters Outing at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen, GA, and it was my first opportunity to see your gear that has been donated put to use.  Matt and I spent the day capturing some moments for some very special folks who surely won’t forget this perfect Fall day. 

Thank you goes to; Project Healing Waters for inviting us, Unicoi Outfitters for hosting this event, all of those who have donated gear over the years and to all the Veterans for your service!

-Justin

Casting For Recovery Georgia

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On November 6th, 2014, I lost my mother to cancer.  I shared her story through the Salmo Search video, which really helped me deal with the immense pain of losing her and I hoped that it may help and encourage others as well.

I wanted to honor her selflessness and passion to help others and had been looking for the right organization to volunteer with to let her memory live on through me.  I happened to come across the Facebook page for the Georgia chapter of Casting for Recovery and sent a message offering to help out.  It may sound silly, but I honestly was anxious about this.  I questioned whether I could emotionally handle it with the memories and images of my mom and her battle with cancer surely to be in the forefront of my mind.

I got an email from Beverly Booth asking if I would come up to Unicoi Outfitters and spend the day photographing a group of ladies on a retreat.  I hesitated to hit the send button on my reply back to her…but only for a mere second.  I was all in and put the date on my calendar immediately.

The morning of October 1st rolls around and I found myself standing in a cabin with about 35 other people.  Amongst those people were women who are battling cancer or who had battled cancer and are in remission.  There were also doctors, fishing guides, and numerous other volunteers…all there to support these women during their retreat.

Later on that morning, the ladies got to dip their wading boots into the cool waters of the Chattahoochee as it ebbed and flowed behind Unicoi Outfitters.  I was amazed and their resolve and toughness.  I simply took photos, hoping to help capture memories for them and to help promote the program.

After the day was done, I jumped in my truck and headed home.  I recently did a lot of work on the old truck and hadn’t yet put the radio back in which meant I had an hour’s drive to let the day soak in.  I realized I had taken more than I gave.  I merely took pictures, but received so much emotional inspiration it seemed like I was stealing.  Here are some of the shots from that day and I hope you can see the strength these women possess.  I also hope that they move you to volunteer and help others any way you can.  I promise you that you will walk away with more than you gave.

-MB-

One Man's Trashy Boat

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When we set out to begin planning filming One Man's Trash, the most daunting task was figuring out our boat situation.  Generally most of the parks in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge have boats to rent, however they aren't necessarily the best suited for spending all day fishing and filming out of.  Most of the jon boat rentals are simple aluminum, with no carpet, which gets extremely hot.  They are also 12' boats, which are not very stable for filming or fishing. Also, at about $100/day, and needing 2, it seemed reasonable and most cost effective to start surfing craigslist for boats we could use for the trip and sell once it was over.

We secured a decent rig early in our planning, already equipped with a 9.9hp (highest allowed in the refuge), carpet, new paint, dry storage and at 15' it was just enough.  But the second boat proved a little more challenging to find.  So, I finally settled on a real piece of junk with a decent hull and trailer, and was determined to make it a worth while swamp rig.  

Once upon a time, it was a 16' 1985 Lowe Bass Catcher, but somehow it had been reduced to a poorly camouflage painted train wreck with a Styrofoam bobber as a transom plug.  But it cost less than what we expected in beer and gas expenses for trip.  With only about a month left before we depart, I began hacking away.  Decks and old carpet were torn out.  The live-well was also removed to give us more room.  The boat was completely stripped of adhesive with solvents and angle grinders.  Roaches were exterminated (seriously it was unreal how many roaches were living in this boat).  

After about 1 week of nightly 4 or 5 hour "after-the-day-job" shifts, it was time to put it all back together.  I recruited the crew for a weekend beer, boat flipping  and paint session.  Who knew home depot sold paint specifically for jon boats online?  It got 3 coats of marine Duralux in Duckboat Drab.  Most all the other little switches, electronics and motor parts were ordered online as well (Thank the Lord for Amazon Prime).  The motor came together better than expected after finding a decent schematic and fogging the carb.  After new carpet, and a messy wheel bearing service, she was ready to rock.  

Taking the leap of faith to rebuild this boat was a great idea.  It took two weeks and although I'm handy, it seemed out of my comfort zone.  But having a boat, if even a cheap one, opens up opportunities to fish and explore new water.  I'm guilty of being a perfectionist, so buying a piece of junk and trying to turn it around in a short time frame was scary.  But it really didn't take much money to get it looking like a respectable watercraft and the process was pretty satisfying.  When the trip was done, I sold her for more than twice what I had paid.  

Lippa4Life Review

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So, since June of 2016, I've managed to contain my excitement about releasing our film, "One Man's Trash".  We also decided to keep it a secret and build some curiosity around what type of fish we were targeting.  Being that we didn't want to give any hints, we have kept more than just the species a secret.  We also haven't told anyone about some of the great gear we used and other stories that accompanied this excursion. So the first that comes to mind, and an absolute essential for targeting Bowfin, or any toothy creature for that fact, is the Rising Fly Fishing Tools Lippa4Life.  I've been visiting and fishing for Bowfin in the swamp several times a year for the past 9 years.  There are two things that are a fact about Bowfin, they are slimy, slick,  and loaded with several rows of very sharp, fine teeth.  In the past I've used the standard "boga grip", which are a fine tool which has become an industry standard among all fishermen.  However, the Lippa4Life has 2 clear advantages.

First and most importantly being; If you intend to release fish without harm, the wide rounded pincers of the Lippa4Life do not puncture through the jaw of the fish you are gripping (even when thrashing violently as the Bowfin love to do).  That means, no blood, no mess and most importantly you release the fish back just how you found him for the next sport angler (or alligator) to catch.  That's the whole idea behind the Lippa4Life and it works perfectly!

Second, the Lippa4Life is lighter and has less moving parts.  I don't like leaving things laying around on the boat deck or fumbling for tools when trying to release a fish.  I kept the Lippa in my pocket and attached to a belt loop thanks to the optional coil leash.  The only thing I did add was a small, lightweight, stainless Night Ize S-Biner to make attaching easier.

Rising makes a lot of great tools and this was just one of several we used on this trip and many other trips we take.  Swing by the site and check out their tying tools, nets and some sweet apparel.  Click here: http://www.risingfish.net/

And, if you didn't catch the premier of our film at the 2017 Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3t) stop in Atlanta, there are two more local screenings before it goes life on the inter-webs!

Well worn and well worth having!
Well worn and well worth having!

One Man's Trash Screening Events

We had our first showing at the 2017 Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3t) in Buckhead and a lot of great feedback.  There are two more chances to catch the film this month, with the possibility of a third. Friday April 7th @ Alpharetta Outfitters, Event starts at 6:30pm, film at 7:00pm and then a look at some behind the scenes footage, extras and some tips and tactics for fishing in the Okefenokee.  Hydration provided by Sweetwater Brewing!

Saturday April 8th, F3t @ Young Harris College Rolins Campus Center, Doors open at 5:30pm, Dinner served at 6:30pm with films starting at 7pm.  Come support the Young Harris TU 5Rivers Club, Project Healing Waters and the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition.

Stay Tuned For info on the third.  Hope to see you there!

 

PHW Follow Up & Thanks

Since we've put a bow on the second annual PHWFF gear drive, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all those who were instrumental in making the second annual gear drive go off without a hitch. While the final numbers aren't in yet, thanks to the many generous individuals and fly shops alike we were able to haul in some pretty sweet gear. Some of which has already been placed in the hands of service vets. This year, like last, we were able to outfit two deserving veterans at the social dinner and I have to say it's a pretty awesome feeling helping to outfit these guys from head to toe for an enjoyable day on the water.

I have to admit it's humbling to hear these guys speak about their experiences and the positive affect fly fishing has had on their lives. I think most of us take everyday life for granted and I know I'm as guilty as the next. These guys and girls sacrifice so much for the rest of us and being able to interact and discuss fishing with them, puts things in perspective and makes you realize how blessed we all are. I don't mean to brag on the Winged Reel and Pig Farm Ink crew, but Regional PHW representative Curt Boatman, has said many times "people approach me all the time with lots of talk and little, to no action. Winged Reel and Pig Farm Ink came to me with little talk and lots of action". I'm proud as hell to be a part of giving back to such a great cause, but I share the above message in hopes that more folks will reach out to worthy causes within the fly fishing community and give back.

Often times it has nothing to do with giving donations, but more about donating your time to a sport that has touched all of us at some point and time in a meaningful way. Fly fishing is often associated with elitism and while there is some of that I think it's deeper than that. The fly fishing community is like a small fraternity and elitism is often mistaken for our ability to quickly weed out the bullshit. I'm not sure if there's a more willing group in the fishing community, than fly fisherman to stand up for the places and causes we believe in. So take a day on the weekend and go help with a stream restoration project or visit the Project Healing Water's or Casting for Recovery site and ask how you can help. You can't put a price on the satisfaction you'll get from giving back!

Again I want to say thanks to all of those who donated and give a special thanks to Tin Lizzy's Cantina for hosting the social dinner. The service was superb and their willingness to donate 20% of each guests bill back to PHW is truly awesome! We're beyond grateful for PHW allowing us to make the gear drive an annual event and we look forward to raising the bar again next year!

 

Tin Lizzy's PHW Event

Hard to believe it's already time to start cutting off donations for the 2nd annual Winged Reel / Pig Farm Ink gear drive benefiting Project Healing Waters. It seems like there's never enough time for the the enjoyable things in life and this is definitely a cause we're very fond of and wish we could devote even more time to. With that being said we're giddy like school girls waiting to see how this years drive will turn out on the donation front. Like we mentioned in a previous post, last year's effort will be hard to top but early signs point toward a good haul again this year. More importantly this year we've been able to spread the word even farther across the land, with several Orvis stores coming on board, as well as reaching locations in Texas and Massachusetts. Aside from the donations, getting the message of Project Healing Waters out there is extremely important in order for them to reach those service veterans who may not have otherwise known an organization like Project Healing Waters existed. For that fact alone we're extremely excited about this years event! When planning for this year's social event, in which all gear will be turned over to Project Healing Water's, the stars aligned for the Atlanta metro area to finally host the Fly Fishing Show at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth Georgia. Saturday of the show proved to be the perfect day to host the social event with all of the like minded folks already in the area for the show. In searching for a location, Tin Lizzy's in Duluth (in close proximity to the Fly Fishing Show) stepped up and not only welcomed us with open arms but also pledged to donate 20% of each guests bill back to Project Healing Water's! This will provide the opportunity to socialize with members of the fly fishing community while simultaneously giving back to those who have made great sacrifices in the service of our nation. The event will commence at 6pm EST on February 4 and as previously mentioned the location is in close proximity to the Infinite Energy Center.

We will be at the show as well as the social event and look forward to seeing some old faces as well as meeting some new ones. For more information about how you can help this great organization click here or drop us a line info@wingedreel.com. Thanks again to everyone who has shown support for this event!