The Buckaroo of the Great Basin

IMG_0536[1]It was a heavy mist morning south out of Corvallis.  The Willamette Valley smelled like low tide, a storm was building as I stepped out of the car at Eugene International.  Mendo Brown met me a few texts past  security for coffee.  We walked slowly to be those guys who wait till the last minute to get on the plane, until I realized I forgot my rod at the coffee shop, and then I was the guy running to the plane.  We were headed to Reno for the Western TU meeting and a little fishing.


We were staying at the Atlantis casino, a neon pink, butane lighter palace by the airport.  Even in that establishment of compulsive nicotine laced Americana, the Sierra Nevada and high desert glowed in a piscatorial light.  The cartoon glass elevator showed snow fields and canyons, leading into cottonwoods, all said fishy, even if it was Nevada. But this was Reno and the Truckee River Valley.  These dudes were cool, hell they had their own fish, Senor Lahonton, The Buckaroo of the Great Basin.

Reno Life

Quarter-ton native Lahontan.

The Lahonton is as much a mystery as a tragedy in fish conservation.  Pyramid Lake is now filled with hatchery fish, a remnant of the great fish that used to spawn up a once wild Truckee River.  Like the salmon runs on the Columbia, settlers filled wagons of Lahonton cutthroat for food and fertilizer, also like the Columbia, the Truckee began getting dammed and diverted eventually bringing a once prolific fish to near extinction. What is so cool about Lahonton is they are a closed basin trout one of 5 cutthroat trout in the Great Basin.   There used be 6 but Oregon’s Alvord cutt is now extinct. photo 2

What is also cool about Reno, beyond the fish is the side without casino’s – See Brewers Cabinet or St James for brews or Michael’s Deli for best sandwiches around.IMG_0532[1]

One our flight back into the Willamette Valley, we had missed a deluge of rain.  Descending into Eugene The Big Willy was out of its banks, showing old bends and sloughs of the Calapooia and Santiams in grass fields and pastures.  It was a stark contrast to the high dry closed basin fishing of Nevada.  We arrived just in time for descending rivers and 3

Tips for fly tying organization and storage

Anyone who ties even a few flies has an immediate problem: What do I do with all this stuff? Get it organized to tie better and more efficiently.


If you are like me, you tie a ton of flies. I think I have almost hit the 1,000-fly mark, so I need to put them somewhere. Those bead storage boxes that they sell at craft stores (Michael’s, Joann’s, etc) are a cost effective and practical solution.

I have a few boxes that are for my smaller nymphs and dry flies, plus a few more that have longer compartments for my streamers and deer hair bugs. This lets you find the flies you need for each trip and lets you stockpile and replenish on-the-water boxes so you always have enough flies.

You don’t have to be a fly tier to use this, if you buy flies this also works great.

Dubbing Rings


This relates to a previous post where I recommended that you cut the corners off your dubbing bags: ring them up.

I used zip ties for at least 2 years before I finally found binder rings which are 1000 times better. They are metal and open and close so you can add new packs or take off empty packs. I divide up my synthetics and naturals then subdivide them even further: rabbit, squirrel, muskrat, fox, ice, trilobal, senyo, and all the others.

I just hang them on my desk or throw them in a box by my desk. It has been the easiest and best storage trick I use.

Pencil cups, not for pencils. For feathers


This is the number one way to keep all your long-stemmed feathers like pheasant, lady amherst, ostrich, and peacock feathers in one place. Most of the time the different bird feathers are different length so you can find them fairly easily.

I used to pop them in a drawer or keep them in a bag, but this keeps them straight and fluffy and  looks awesome on your bench.

Separate everything

Separate everything into its own category drawer: hair, feathers, fur, rabbit, synthetic body, natural, bucktail, arctic fox, saddle hackles, marabou, etc. It works great because I can find what I’m looking for in no time, plus I don’t lose materials. This helps figure out what you need or don’t so you don’t buy extra or don’t buy enough.

Tool Caddy


The Renzetti Tool Caddy is the best. For a while I used a pencil case that worked just fine until I spilled an entire bottle of head cement in it, ruining a bunch of my tools. Now with the tool caddy I don’t ever worry about any of my liquids spilling or losing my tools.

I have six bobbins, four pairs of scissors, three brushes, three hair packers, and so much more in there, so it was well worth it.

Hang your tails

This doesn’t just apply to tails, but to any big obnoxious material. I hang up my two fox tails, raccoon tail, and my saddle dry fly hackles. Buy those Command hooks and use medium copper wire scraps to hang them. It works well to reduce clutter and save space in drawers and on your desk. It also looks pretty cool just like the feather cup.

As a side note, buy a tail and you’ll never need to buy another again no matter how many flies you tie. I have barely put a dent into my tails. It would almost be worth it to split a tail with someone.


I like having a clear space to tie. It helps me tie better, stay organized, use my scraps, and just tie higher quality flies. Having plenty of space also keeps everything together: tools, flies, and materials.

Good luck with storage and if you have any questions come into the shop or call. In the meantime, happy tying.


‘Roots to Rivers’ Dinner and Auction to Benefit Local Conservation Groups


Proceeds from April 5th event at the Vue in Corvallis to support Calapooia Watershed Council, Greenbelt Land Trust, Marys River Watershed Council, and Ten Rivers Food Web

Four local conservation and advocacy groups are teaming up to host Roots to Rivers, a benefit dinner and silent auction on April 5th, 2014 from 6-9:30pm at the Vue in downtown Corvallis (517 SW 2nd St.).  Calapooia Watershed Council, Greenbelt Land Trust, Marys River Watershed Council, and Ten Rivers Food Web  are joining together to celebrate the land, water, and farms that make the Willamette Valley a unique and beautiful place to live, work, and play. Guests will enjoy a delicious Mediterranean feast showcasing local foods and the finest local craft brews and wines. A silent auction will feature unique services and adventures such as a garden package including 5 yards of organic compost, seeds, and plant starts; a Benton County distillery tasting and tour package; a McKenzie River fly fishing trip for two; and more. The evening’s entertainment will include strolling minstrels, tarot readings, belly dancing, and magic! As the evening stars come out, we will enjoy the sweet sounds of the Portland-based three piece band Sagebrush Sisters!

Tickets for the event are available at both First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op locations in Corvallis, partner office locations, and online.

Proceeds from the evening will directly benefit the partner organizations working to host Roots to Rivers:

  • Calapooia Watershed Council promotes voluntary actions to improve the health of the Calapooia Watershed and its communities. (
  • Greenbelt Land Trust protects in perpetuity native habitats, working lands, and lands of natural beauty, which provide a connection to the natural world for the residents of the mid-Willamette Valley. (
  • Marys River Watershed Council inspires and supports voluntary stewardship of the Marys River watershed. (
  • Ten Rivers Food Web builds stronger communities in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties by nourishing a local food system to ensure healthy food for all. (

Interested in participating in Roots to Rivers as a sponsor, donor, or volunteer? Contact Kyle at or 541-466-3493.

What’s up with the steelhead stalkers?

The crew of the research vessel Chasina gets ready to drop an acoustic telemetry receiver 300 feet down into Puget Sound. The device will record tagged steelhead as they swim out of their spawning rivers. Credit: Ashley Ahearn

OPB radio recently provided a look into the research conducted by Megan Moore (NWFSC – NOAA) and colleagues on an early marine survival project. If you didn’t catch the program, it describes the sources and locations of steelhead smolt mortality upon leaving their natal river. The researchers are tagging wild and hatchery smolts, then tracking their movements (and survival) through Hood Canal in Washington to study where mortality is occurring and if differences between hatchery and wild fish are present.

Their most recent steelhead stalker project had the following 4 objectives:

  1. Get a baseline survival estimate for two wild populations;
  2. determine if conservation hatchery smolts had similar survival rates compared to wild smolts;
  3. evaluate if wild and conservation hatchery smolts from the same population have similar behavioral traits, and;
  4. locate hot spots of mortality during smolt migration.

The study was repeated over three years (2008-2010). Wild smolts were captured from two Hood Canal rivers and tagged with VEMCO acoustic tags. These tags emit an active signal (think along the lines of sonar) that is picked up by receivers positioned in migration corridors. Each tag has a unique ID code so individual fish can be tracked through their path of migration. The conservation hatchery fish were offspring of wild spawners and collected as recently fertilized embryos from the river (no artificial spawning involved).

Two different hatcheries were used to rear the fish. One hatchery (Duckabush population), was low-density with circular tanks and the second (Skokomish population), was higher-density (within conservation program guidelines) using raceways for rearing. The same tags were implanted in the hatchery fish and wild fish so there wasn’t a difference in tag effects.

To track the fish, four lines of receivers were deployed during the study. The first was at the river mouth of each river smolts were tagged in. The second was at the Hood Canal bridge, a third was made across Admiralty Inlet and the final array was spanning the Juan De Fuca Strait.

Program MARK, using a Cormack Jolly Seber survival model, was used to determine if any of the following five factors influenced survival;

  1. population (river differences);
  2. rearing type (hatchery vs wild);
  3. hatchery (differences between two hatcheries used);
  4. Skokomish (combined Duckabush wild and hatchery vs Skokomish hatchery), and;
  5. Duckabush (combined Skokomish wild and hatchery vs Duckabush).

Three covariates (length, condition factor and release date) were included in all models as well. If you want more details on the analysis check out the pdf (I dare you…).

For survival probabilities of each population in each section of the migration click here. Wild fish had the highest survival probability, but the Duckabush hatchery smolts were not statistically different from wild fish. The Skokomish hatchery fish had lower survival in every migration segment except from the Hood Canal bridge to Admiralty Inlet. The Hood Canal bridge to Admiralty Inlet segment was the area of highest mortality for all populations. Release date has a slight positive effect on survival, meaning hatchery fish released later in the season had a slightly higher probability of survival. There were no differences between wild and hatchery populations in freshwater or saltwater migration behavior.

Let’s put this one in perspective. Some hatchery fish had indistinguishable survival rates from wild fish…score one for the conservation hatchery program! The other hatchery population (the Skokomish) had lower survival probabilities, but they were raised at higher densities in a raceway environment. Potentially higher-rearing density, or something unique to the raceway, had an effect on post-release survival.

A mortality “hot spot” was found in the migration pathway. Between Hood Canal bridge and Admiralty Inlet, all smolts had mortality rates up to 15 times higher than any other migration segment. The authors suggested that the subsurface bridge pontoons could be inhibiting the surface-oriented smolts during their migration. And just in the past year Moore, et al. have published another paper on the effects of the bridge on smolt survival. Stay tuned for that article in my next post.

Neil Thompson is a P.h.D. student at Oregon State University studying the drivers of domestication selection in hatchery culture of Pacific salmon and steelhead.  Find out more info on the lab where I work here.