Take a peak into the history of some of my favorite rods!!
After getting abused in its early days and neglected more recently, will I be able to get my 30-year-old jon boat back up and running to catch fish?
If you missed it live, you can catch Episode 2 of FishWithJD TV right here. This time around, I welcomed the country’s foremost wild game chef to the program, Scott Leysath, host of the popular TV shows The Sporting Chef and Dead Meat, which can be seen on the sportsman Channel.
Scott has been a lot of “quarantine cooking” lately and shares with us all sorts of cool ways to prepare fish chowder, ducks and geese, gravlax, squirrel and more!
Watch Episode 1 HERE with award-winning rod designer, Fred Contaoi of Douglas Outdoors.
Spend enough time on the water, and you’re gonna see some interesting stuff!
From the amazingly cool to the hilarious to totally the bizarre, I’ve seen it all. This time around, let’s take a look at some of the creepier stuff I’ve encountered while out on the creek.
A few years ago, I was rowing my drift boat down a riffle in the American River near Sacramento, CA when I spotted a very odd skull (above and below pix) in about a foot of water.
The current was just fast enough to keep me from rowing back up to it, but I was able to snap a quick pic as we drifted by…
As you can imagine, I stared at this photo for a long time that evening and couldn’t figure out what the heck I was looking at.
The next day, I drifted the same stretch and made a point of getting the anchor down early enough so that I could stop the boat in time to scoop the skull with my net.
It was the craziest looking thing…horns and huge fangs. We were perplexed as to the origin until I flipped it over and saw this on the bottom:
“Made in China.”
My clients and I got a good laugh out of that one — and had even more fun showing it to other boats that we passed that day.
One Early November, a buddy and I were hiking the West Fork Carson River, chasing late season trout. The terrain was pretty steep and we were having to do some serious booney-crashing to get to the next hole.
To keep from stumbling over the rocks and brush, I spent most of my time looking down at my feet and, at one point looked up just in time to come face to face with this…
Let’s just say I may or may not have made a sound similar to that of a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert…
Halloween gag…or way to scare people away from the best fishing hole…or???? Who knows…but I can tell ya it took about 20 minutes for my heart rate to come back down to normal…and about the same time for my fishing pal to stop laughing.
I had a boat load of clients boonedoggin’ roe for king salmon on the Sacramento River several years back when one of the guys reeled this up…
You can see our hook and glob of eggs on the right side of the “meat.” There was no way I was gonna touch the thing, so I cut the line and let it go…but not before snapping the pic.
As you can imagine, this unusual catch led to lots of speculation the rest of the day. Who or what was it? Who chucked in to the river and why? And perhaps most creepy, why was the bone sawed off?
I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical answer to all of these questions…right? Right?
I launched my boat on a gravel bar on a remote river one morning and then, in the afternoon, came back to find this creepy-ass doll head and some unidentifiable fluids under my truck…
Im not a big fan of weird stuff like clowns and dolls and this one looked particularly evil. How it got there or why remains a mystery.
Nobody messed with my truck and there were no signs of other weirdness…just a creepy baby’s head and some odd fluids where there hadn’t been before. Hmmmmm….
As my buddy Reilly and I walked down a small creek deep in the in the Alaskan bush, casting for silver salmon, we noticed this humpy carcass on the bank…it was notable because it wasn’t a pink salmon year (they run every other year).
About 5 minutes later, we reached an impassible section of the creek and turned around and headed back upstream. The humpy was still there…only this time he was sporting grizzly bear bites — and was missing his very tasty brain.
Apparently, we just missed crossing paths with Mr. Brown…who may have thought a couple of slow two-footed critters may have been a breed meal.
ABANDONED FISH CAMP
In remote Southwest Alaska, there’s an old abandoned fishing camp that’s largely intact.
The structures are all still there and there are still half-empty cans of soda and unwashed dishes on the tables.
While it looks as if the camp’s visitors were suddenly overtaken by a zombie apocalypse…it was really a lease issue between the lodge owner and the land owner that couldn’t be resolved that resulted in the facility being abandoned.
It’s a really eerie place to visit…especially if you don’t know the whole story!
Speaking of zombies, take a look at my finger here. This is what happens when a little line cut (you can see the vertical slit running horizontally in the middle of all that gross purpleness) gets infected with salmon slime.
I woke up to it being very stiff and I kinda just ignored it. The next day, I had red veins running up my arm…a sure sign of “salmon poisoning,” which is really a bad infection that, if left for too long can result in loss of limbs or even life!
A bunch of antibiotics later, I was ok!
In the winter of 2017, we had record rainfall in California and because of that, I got a gig ferrying engineers out to a TV tower that was on a flooded island in the Delta.
I’d tie the boat off to the tower while the guys worked on the platform above. My job was to simply be a taxi driver — and to repel unwanted borders like snakes!
Let me clarify something: I don’t do snakes in any way — they creep me out and I stay as far away from them as I can.
So, when this guy and a few of his buddies who were displaced by the floods decided that my boat looked like a nice place to hang out, I had to take action. I nearly started looking to Sell a boat with GraysOnline or somewhere likewise online, I told you, I do not do snakes!
It still makes my skin crawl thinking about the sight of these slithery devils trying to climb the sides of my boat. Luckily, I had a long pole onboard with which I was able to keep the serpents at bay. I was hoping for a nice relaxing day napping on the boat but the thought of snakes out there kept me wide awake!
One morning I was walking the beach, fishing for surf perch in Humboldt County when I spotted something about 40 yards off that looked like strawberry-blonde hair sticking up from the sand…
I really didn’t want to walk over and discover a body, but I decided it was the right thing to do. I got a chill as I got closer because I was certain I could see a hair braid (bottom right corner of the photo). That could only mean one thing: it was a corpse buried in the sand.
Only a few feet away, it still looked all the world like a head of hair…but I was relieved to see that it was just be a ball of twine or sea veg. Pheeeeew!
Steelhead are rad. Sorry to have to go to the vault and bust out a 1980’s adjective there, but it really does fit, doesn’t it?
Everything about them is cool: The way they crush a plug or mash a swung fly. Their ability to cartwheel 3 feet out of the water and then burn 50 yards of line in a nanosecond. Their incomparable beauty. The incredible places they live.
Pure and simple steelhead are indeed… rad.
While I love my kings and coho and stripers and browns and roosters, if I had to pick one fish to chase for the rest of eternity – it would be the steelhead without hesitation. And I’m sure many of you out in FishwithJD Land feel the same way. So let’s take a look at some interesting factoids concerning our favorite fish…
So, where do they go in the ocean?
Precious little is known about their wanderings in the sea. While steelies eat some of the same prey items that salmon do, they obviously don’t hang around much with them – otherwise we’d catch a lot more steelies while hunting kings and coho.
Back in the early 1990’s when California’s offshore salmon fishing was going gangbusters, I asked a deckhand on one of the most popular charter boats out of San Francisco if they ever caught any steelhead during the summer season.
He said that they caught one… once. Back in those days, the boats would load up with 30 anglers and get limits (2 per rod) of kings every day…and sometimes twice a day… all summer long. Do the math: that’s a lot of kings and not so many trout!
I also have a couple commercial fishermen buddies who echo the same story. In all their thousands of hours out on the briny blue, they’ve caught exactly one steelhead. Strangely enough, it was taken about 26 miles off the northwestern corner of California on a big plug being trolled for tuna (see photo above).
What we do know is steelhead seem to roam great distances in the saltchuck. According to NOAA, a steelhead tagged south of Kiska Island in Alaska’s western Aleutian Island chain, was recovered about six months and 2,200 miles later in Washington State’s Wynoochee River.
Info I received from the University of Washington tells the story of a Steelie released from a hatchery in Idaho that swam to the center of the Gulf of Alaska, a distance of about 890 nautical miles, in only two months.
Another from Oregon’s Alsea River hatchery was caught south of Kodiak Island, Alaska five months later after swimming at least 1,200 miles.
Far from the green river valleys and fog-shrouded redwoods where we typically think of steelhead living, once there were actually spawning populations of steelhead in…get this…Mexico!
Those fish, of course, are all gone now, but what a cool combo trip you could have put together back in the day – a little steelhead fishing in the morning, followed by some Rooster fish off the beach and maybe cap off the day with some wahoo and dorado.
Those were the days!
Speaking of Southern Steelhead, there are still a few stragglers each season in Malibu Creek near Los Angeles. In the 1950’s, the Los Angeles River used to produce good steelhead fishing and the nearby Ventura River had an annual run of around 4,000 adults prior to the construction of Matilija Dam in 1948.
Now of course steelhead in the L.A. River are nothing more than an April Fool’s gag and all other southern populations are either extinct or residing on the Endangered Species List.
Fun with fecundity
Four thousand, nine hundred and twenty three. That’s the average number of eggs a female steelhead carries in her cargo bay. That being said, can anyone please explain to me why it is still legal to keep wild steelhead in some places??
Not my first rodeo, cowboy!
Steelhead are unique in that they don’t necessarily die after spawning. While many of them succumb to the rigors of the journey, a percentage of fish beat the odds and return to their natal streams more than once.
In Alaska, where there are generally shorter steelhead drainages with fewer man-made diversions and habitat infringements, the incidence of repeat spawning can be significantly higher. The rate can be from 11% to 38% with an average between 25% to 33% (Brookover and Harding 2003). On the Situk River in 1994, 907 steelhead were captured and sampled for age and length and 51% of them were found to be repeat spawners (Johnson 1996).
Yep, you heard that right steelhead exsist in the Atlantic. There’s a nice population of sea-run rainbows in the Rio Santa Cruz in southern Patagonia. The steelies that run right-to-left up the Santa Cruz are not native to South America and, allegedly originated from fish transplanted from the McCloud River (a tributary to the Sacramento) in Northern California around the turn of the century.
Methinks a trip down there may be in order…just to see how our friends are faring on the “wrong” coast!
We all know steelhead are fast, but did you know that they can hit bust speeds of 26 feet per second? Think about that one for a minute – 26 feet per second is pretty impressive.
If you hook a fish right at the transom of your jet sled, it could be several feet off your bow in the blink of an eye!
If you do the math, a steelhead traveling at that rate for an extended period of time (they can’t), could travel a mile in about 3½ minutes.
So, the next time you’re left there dazed and confused on the river bank, with a blistered thumb and a limp line, you’ll have a better idea of what just happened to ya…
For more steelhead info, check out the Steelhead Techniques page here.