Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steelheading - About #9514

#9514 a 10lb hatchery buck caught this week
As the CEO of a shark diving company I have another life outside of the world of sharks, conservation, and the industry.

This surprises folks sometimes as apparently you're not supposed to have a life outside of sharks.

To each his own I always say.

My other life finds me on rivers, streams, high mountain lakes and just about every freshwater body from California to Alaska, fly fishing for trout and Steelhead.

In fact for those who know me I can often be found racing back from the Bahamas after a 10 day film production with sharks to grab my drift boat and spend a week slowly drifting and fishing down the banks of big rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

Which is where I was this week when I encountered #9514.

The day had begun cold and overcast. When you fly fish for Steelhead, an ocean run trout, you have to get up at the crack of dawn and so I geared up with a fly fishing buddy, threw bags of stuff into the drift boat and slowly pushed out into the rising river (days of wet weather in the mountains had risen river levels) as the sun was just peeking over the mountain ranges.

Cold river fishing is everything you might expect, but for Steelheaders, intent on the titanic hits and blistering runs up class two rapids, cold is just an annoyance when you are waist deep in swirling dark waters, like midges on a hot summer day.

I love being in the steep canyons of the high desert where just the noises of the water and late summer meadow larks penetrate your consciousness. It's a Zen thing, the ability to get away completely and find yourself in a place that has remained basically unchanged for the past 10,0000 years. The rhythm of life on this river pulses and eddies like the river itself and we're just passing though as wide eyed interlopers.

We caught a few fish along the way but not the elusive Steelhead we were looking for. These animals inhabit an almost mythical place in the minds of the fishermen who chase them. Unlike trout these fish run like salmon to the ocean and back, imbuing them with the same pink flesh as salmon and an almost unholy musculature that gives the fisherman lucky enough to catch one a battle like that of hooking into a speeding Mac Truck on a local interstate highway.

There were a few false starts, a hookup and a popped hook at mile three, another huge hit in a deep drop off on a gravel bank a few minutes later and then a mile or two downstream as the late summer sun chased away the last of the overcast sky, I watched my indicator slip under the surface and pulled up to a head shake that transmitted a signal up my line and through my 11 foot rod like an old school telegraph - with 10,000 volts behind it.

Steelhead. Big.

#9514 decided to announce his presence with a vertical takeoff that cleared the river by 4 feet and left my fly fishing buddy speechless and myself with the first rush of adrenalin that precedes any good Steelhead fight. He landed back in the river with a titanic splash and preceded to run into the rising river and upstream with a powerful kick that happened in a split second from the moment I was aware he was on the line.

This was not only a big animal but a cadgy one as well.

#9514 knew all the tricks, deep water holding where the current strained my 10lb fluorocarbon line to the breaking point, head shakes that shook my rod like a palm tree in a hurricane, and zig zag maneuvers at such a high rate of speed that you barely had time to react.

But at the ripe old age of 43, I have been around a few years to know most of these tricks. Most.

#9514 almost had me a few times in this battle but eventually the combination of skill, luck, and an 11 foot Helios Switch rod turned the tide in my favor and soon a 34 inch, 10lb hatchery buck with a Floy Tag on his side greeted me in a big net that my buddy had skillfully placed underneath this terrific animal.

We spent a moment in awed silence admiring #9514, and then decided to keep him. Hatchery fish are taken out of the system to preserve the genetic bio diversity of the Steelheaed stock, "wilders" as they are known are gently revived and placed back into the river to spawn, but old timers like #9514 are given a choice, and this old fellow had a date with some Alderwood in a smoker with a brown sugar, red wine and soy glaze.

I am a big fan of catch a release and practice it religiously, but sometimes it's nice to enjoy natures bounty while at the same time learning more about #9514's pedigree.

This morning I called in the tag and spoke with the DFW about #9514. He was tagged September 20th, 2011 and was part of a pulse of returning hatchery Steelhead that numbered over 600,000 animals. He was in the right river system, parting ways with many of his brethren who are now on their way up the Snake River in Idaho.

#9514 began life in the river I was fishing as a hatchery yearling, running downstream to the Pacifc  through the mighty Columbia river to the ocean where he spent at least a year of his life before heading back, through falls, class three rapids and eventually to the intersection of a bend in a river where I had anchored my boat thinking that this might be good "Steelhead holding water".

It was, and for me my life was enriched, both in the actual sustenance of a magnificent fish, and to my soul.

This is my other life, and it's a wonderful place.

Patric Douglas CEO

Global shark conservation, and then there's Australia

The head of a gravid Tiger being dumped. Image Michael Ross
A 12 foot Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) was caught on drumlines off the Gold Coast of Australia this week with authorities "shooing away" photographers in an apparent attempt to conceal the size of the animal.

The female Tiger was found to have 30 pups inside her.

We have covered the ongoing devastating effects of drumlines on shark off the Gold Coast for several years, and it's not just an Australian problem with South Africa employing the same techniques to manage their regional "shark issues".

What makes today's story particularly frustrating from both a conservation and shark diving industry perspective is the apparent shark psychosis that Australian management officials suffer from. On one coast it is o.k to kill white sharks, tigers and just about any other shark species that is unfortunate enough to bite down on baited hooks, while on other coast where tourism with sharks generates million of dollars sustainably, authorities are attempting to shut some operations down and reduce the numbers of days they can operate - all in an effort to protect sharks.

White shark caught on Gold Coast drumline in 2009

While the rest of the planet marches headlong into new an uncharted territory for shark conservation with the addition of millions of square miles of shark sanctuaries, byzantine hold outs like Australia and South Africa are setting new lows for shark management policies.

Your either protecting sharks, or not.

In Australia it would seem that at least when sharks are commercialized sustainably with conservation minded shark diving operations, sharks need to be studied, protected, and managed. But in areas where humans demand high dollar value for beachfront housing and waters to wade in, shark conservation begins and ends with a baited hook.

Welcome to the world of Australian shark management, if you're a shark, take a left turn at Sydney, because that's the only way you'll survive Gold Coast shark management.