Bringing Bristol Bay Home

We’re writing this from our recently purchased house on the rain-hammered winter coast of Oregon. Sheets of water are lashing against our windows, and the wind threatens to rip off the storm door. It’s a far cry from the GTs we were catching on Christmas Island a few weeks back in the warm sun. Now we’re here for the steelhead. Each season we guide winter-run steelhead in the heart of Oregon’s north coast. As a part of our dream, we created Frigate Travel, an outfitting company servicing and expanding a host of fishing destinations around the world. When steelhead season ends, the Sea of Cortez will lure us back for another season chasing and guiding roosterfish.

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Mr. Gray Struznik of Oly Pen Fly Fishing – with a swung Naknek King – Photo JC

After Mexico, we’ll head back up to Alaska, specifically the Naknek River in Bristol Bay. For six seasons we have guided these waters. Like countless other fishing guides around the Northwest, it is how we’ve made our living and gained experience, spending day after day with clients, fickle boat motors, huge tidal pushes, crazy weather and fish – so many fish. Bristol Bay has all five species of Pacific salmon, giant rainbow trout, fat char, grayling, lake trout and northern pike. This is just the game fish,; Bristol Bay’s waterfowl and upland hunting is off the hook. And big game hunters travel from around the world to this region for brown bear, caribou and moose. This place offers so many “experiences of a lifetime.” The region has helped us afford to build a small outfitting company with a solid client base who will fish with us around the Pacific. 

The effort to protect Bristol Bay is so important to the economics of the outdoor industry. More than $100 million are spent annually in Bristol Bay on hunting and fishing. This industry employs more than 1,000 people within the region to include float plane pilots, chefs, fishing guides and lodge support staff. Travel companies, tackle manufacturers, boat builders, food suppliers, restaurant workers, even taxi services reap the benefits from the economic engine of Bristol Bay’s outdoor industry.  This place consistently draws writers, photographers and filmmakers to tell the story of an untouched wilderness with amazing fishing. Bristol Bay creates in all of us a deep sense of nostalgia for how our home waters used to be.

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P Ford and JC, with a little Bristol Bay rainbow

The effort to stop the Pebble Mine threatening the Bristol Bay fishery with massive metallic sulfide settling ponds at the headwaters is finally coming to a head.  The EPA has a chance to protect this fishery hailed as the largest sockeye salmon run left in the world.  The EPA can stop the proposal to construct the largest open pit copper mine ever proposed in Alaska (and potentially North America), at the headwaters of one of the world’s largest king salmon runs on the Nushagak River and the largest sockeye salmon run on the Kvichak River. The EPA can protect a fishery that provides a living for thousands of families as well as a thousand-year-old culture of subsistence. 

We just bought our first home on the Oregon Coast because of our ability to fish so many steelhead streams and introduce our guests to this part of our world. Like most Alaska fishermen, our time in Bristol Bay provides us with a chance to start new businesses, buy homes, purchase new boats, and give back to the economy where we live. That is what working ecosystems are supposed to do.

Please take a minute and tell EPA to use it’s power under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay.

Kate Taylor and Justin Crump own Frigate Travel and guide for Alaska Sportsman’s Bear Trail Lodge in King Salmon, Alaska. When not in Alaska, they live a block from a very cold beach on the north coast of Oregon or somewhere on the Baja.

Whiteside Theatre at 7:00 PM tomorrow night – the biggest party in fly fishing

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Downtown Corvallis – Whiteside Theatre 361 SW Madison Ave, Corvallis, OR 97333

7PM doors open – Film starts at 8PM

10 bones for your ticket until 5PM on Saturday when the shop closes. After that it’s 15 at the door.

Cigars, Redds, and the beauty of Winter Steelhead

This is a fish story about a recent afternoon trip during which a fish – an impossibly bright, acrobatic little hen – was caught, but wasn’t the highlight of the afternoon.

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I parked in my normal spot, geared up, lit the last of the Mazo of Rocky Patel factory seconds I had scored on a holiday sale, and made my way to the water. I was surprised how low and clear it was. I had checked gauges on larger coastal rivers that morning and they were still receding; transporting the water from recent, much needed rainfall down to the Pacific to begin the cycle again. With the low flows I knew fishy spots would be few and far between so I was glad I had worn my old, already-leaking, blackberry-ravaged waders because I would have to do a considerable amount of brush busting to find holding water. I decided to leave my single hander broken down and just walk the creek for a while, then fish my way back.

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I spotted them just a few minutes from the car. She was gorgeous and long, with wide, athletic shoulders, and lying in a bed of clean gravel. He was enormous: barrel chested with a chiseled, angular jaw but showing evidence of a difficult journey. I knelt and watched them for several minutes, finning peacefully and belying the fact that their life’s mission was near climax as they prepared to “make love to the earth” (Duncan’s words). Some movement below caught my eye in the form of a much smaller, brighter buck cresting the lip of the tailout. He made it within a yard or so before Mr. Big spun around and chased him off into the pool below. While the bucks were off playing grab ass, the hen sprang into action and resumed digging her nest. Moments later, Mr. Big reappeared and sidled up next to her in the pole position. I knelt there for the better part of half an hour watching this sequence of events play over and over. The interloper would come in from different angles and different speeds, sometimes pausing for cover in a nearby root wad, displaying the crafty persistence of our food-stealing neighborhood crow. But each time he snuck in, Mr. Big would turn tail and shoot off after him. I wondered how long the haggard old buck could keep it up.

I was so enraptured by the drama unfolding below that I had let my cigar go out. I decided I had played the voyeur long enough and slowly stood up, backed away, re-lit the chocolaty maduro and continued bushwacking my way downstream, enjoying the freedom of wearing garbage-bound waders. I fished a couple likely spots downstream but couldn’t stop thinking about what was going on back in that tailout.

It was probably 45 minutes later when I returned, peered down over the bank and laughed out loud when I saw the young buck in bed with the hen. His persistence had paid off, at least for the time being. I didn’t know if he had won the war, or just one of multiple battles that might be fought for the right to cast his spawn in that redd. I’d been rooting for Mr. Big and wondered what had become of him. Was he just lying in the deep pool below regaining his strength and waiting for the right moment to reclaim the roost or had he moved on, resigned to searching for a less competitive situation?

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What I knew for sure was that I had witnessed an extraordinary scene from what is for me one of the most fascinating life cycles on earth. Feeling nearly overwhelmed with wonder and filled with gratitude, I considered walking straight to the car and calling it a day but I decided instead to take advantage of the last few minutes of daylight and fish the cobbled riffle above the next pool. That is where I struck chrome and added my adrenaline to the hormonal stew being cooked in that water.

– JB