January Statistics

January proved to be a challenging fish month. Wind, bone chilling cold, heavy rains, and cold water temperatures tempered the fish bite and provided limited fishing windows. The Puget Sound region and the Long Beach peninsula provided the majority of the species with most of those being shellfish (see map to the left). Shellfish diversity in the Cascadia region is impressive. Several of the shellfish I harvested during January were new species to me entirely with Market Squid and Pacific Oyster being among the highlights. Bottomfish in the Puget Sound was also very productive and fun with numerous Brown Sole falling victim to Razor Clam necks bounced along the bottom. Freshwater fishing was frustratingly unproductive. I put in many fish-less hours in search of steelhead and only had one short encounter with a “blackmouth” or resident Puget Sound chinook before it spit the hook. Perch and trout fish also proved poor on local lakes and in the surf largely due to high winds and strong tides. However, I still ended up with 13 species overall for the month which is a respectable start to the big year.

I spent a total 80.3 hours fishing and of the 10 species or species groups I spent targeting only 4 of those groups proved fruitful (green in the graph below). A little less than half of my fish effort was from the bank, about 40% was done from kayak, and the remainder was done from a drift boat. I expect as water temperatures rise and fish become more active those stats will improve.

I traveled a total of 1018 miles in pursuit of fish. The majority, 968 miles, was done in my car. I peddled or paddled 42.5 miles which explains why my back is killing me and walked a little over 7.5 miles in piscine pursuits.

I made my annual donation to ODFW for the privilege of fishing in that state which I still have yet to do. In total I spent $463 on bait, tackle, lures, launch fees, and licenses necessary for my big year. Hopefully those costs will fall as I begin to focus locally on warm water species in the coming months. I also looking to minimize costs by using versatile tackle and lures. The lowly night crawler, jig, or spinner may prove to be my most valuable lures/bait.

It will be interesting to see how the months compare as I progress through the big year. I suspect that May through September will be the most productive with either July or August being the top species producing months but we will see.


Cascadia Haemul (Seafood) Jjigae

I recently returned from the Puget Sound where I caught several Market Squid using squid jigs and I also harvested Foolish Mussels and Plate Limpets exposed during a low tide. With a collection of fresh seafood in the refrigerator and the house blanketed in cool thick winter fog I though I might spice up the day with a fiery Cascadia haemul (seafood) jjigae. Jjigaes are a Korean dish similar to our western style stews with a couple differences namely, like many Korean foods, they are spicy and are typically cooked and served in special ceramic or stoneware bowls piping hot. I first encountered jjigaes when traveling in South Korea several years ago on a birdwatching trip during the winter. A hot bowl of jjigae was just the ticket to warm the body after a long day watching swans and cranes feeding in the Nakdong Estuary. They are also great after a long day wading in frigid waters in search of winter steelhead.

This jjigae is Pacific Northwesternized version of a basic seafood jjigae. I dialed back the spice a bit for my own sake but you can easily adjust the spiciness by putting more or less red pepper in the dish. Additionally, my significant other is not a big fan of “fishy” flavored dished so I used chicken stock from our own pastured broilers rather than the traditional anchovy or fish based stocks. I on the other hand love the taste of fish so I added a bit of Dashi stock to my pot to compensate. Fresh ingredients are a must in Korean cooking as it is quite normal for Koreans to stop by the market daily on the way home from work to get fresh seafood and vegetables rather than shopping once or twice a week and storing the weeks food in the fridge as Americans typically do. Once you start cooking things move fast so have everything ready to go beforehand.

Cascadia Haemul Jjigae


Ingredients (Serves 2)

1/4lb of thinly sliced venison backstraps (I used some from a Black-tailed Deer doe I took a while back)
8-10 plate limpets (scrub the shells and rinse the snails feet prior to use)
6-8 foolish mussels (or similar marine mussel species)
1 large market squid sliced (10+ inches or two smaller squid)
1 green onion sliced
1/4 cup sliced white or yellow onion
1/2 zucchini (diced)
2 eggs
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 cups chicken stock (you can substitute any stock you would like)
2 tbsp korean red pepper flakes
2 tbsp sesame oil
16 oz soft tofu

This dish can be cooked in the traditional Korean “hotpots” on the stovetop in which case you can split the ingredients down the middle for each bowl. You can readily find these traditional cooking and serving bowls at any Korean grocery (H-Mart is an easy place to get them in the Portland area). Alternatively you can use a normal metal stovetop pot which requires only a minimal change in the cooking times as they heat and cool faster than the traditional pots.

1. Add the sesame oil and the Korean red pepper flakes to the pot while cool and heat on medium heat until the flakes soften. Mix occasionally until a paste like consistency is formed.

2. Add the yellow or white diced onion, soy sauce, and the venison. Stir-fry in the traditional pot for 4 minutes and for 2-3 minutes in a metal pot.

3. Add the stock and bring to boil. Boil for 3 minutes.

4. Add the zucchini first and then the tofu in large chunks. Simmer for 3 minutes and stir lightly once.

5. Add the seafood and cook for 2 minutes. Be sure that the mussel shells have popped open.

6. Many Korean dishes are topped with an egg. This is optional here but I don’t see any reason to break with tradition. If you are using traditional hotpots turn off the heat and crack an egg into each pot and add the green onions. The residual heat of the pot will keep it boiling and cook the egg. For those using a metal pot add the egg but keep the heat going for another minute. Afterwards remove from heat and add the green onion.

7. Serve immediately with a side of steamed rice and kimchi (if you have some available). I like to take spoonfuls of rice and dip them in the broth before eating. This allows you to pick up the more subtle flavors of the dish too and adds some carbohydrates to this meaty, spicy, and savory dish.



Team Spirit

Silver ghosts or the fish-of-a-thousand casts, steelhead have adopted many names. For both the beginning and the expert fisherman they can be elusive. I struggled to connect with a steelhead in the beginning but once I connected with my first fish others came easier. The challenge in steelhead fishing is the number of variables involved: water clarity, air and water temperature, turbidity, season, time of day, water flow rate, and habitat are just a few of the variables that a steelhead fisherman needs to bear in mind. Making it all the more challenging is that the structure (e.g. the gravel and rocks and how the current behaves) in the river is constantly changing and a boulder that holds fish at a flow of 3000 cfs may not at 1500 cfs. Additionally, there are a wide array of ways in which to target steelhead: bobber and jig, drifting eggs, pink worms, divers, plugs, spinners, spoons, yarn, beads, etc… and all may work on one day whereas only one may work the next.

It is safe to say that steelhead are not phantoms of the river and it shouldn’t take a thousand casts to catch one although my first certainly took that many. If you casting a thousand times or more for fish you are probably targeting rivers at inappropriate times or simply not working over the right water. Before the New Year I was consistently connecting with one or two fish on most outings. In the beginning it was the norm to come home empty handed and smelling decidedly clean but in the past couple years I consistently come home stinking of slime often with some work to do on the fillet table. However, on occasion I get into a fish funk and weeks can pass without a fish. Poorly timed to coincide with my big fishing year such would be the case for me in the past few weeks.

I find the most helpful thing for me during these slow periods is to go fishing with friends. When I fish for steelhead with friends it is a definitely a team sport. I am always pleased if just one of us can connect with a fish. Watching a buddy catch a fish is almost as good as catching a fish myself. For one it brings a lot of joy to me to watch someone connect with a fish because I know exactly the kind of joy that brings. Secondly it restores my faith that the river can and will produce fish. Lastly every steelhead fisherman has two or three steelhead methods that they confidently and frequently use. While there is usually some overlap I have found that I can learn a lot from my fishing friends even guys who are just starting out always have something to teach me.

This was the case this past week when two buddies and myself were out fishing on a nearby river. We stopped at a hole that has consistently produced for me in the past. During one extremely low water event a few years back my wife and I floated and fished this section and a discovered a 75 yard boulder field littered with rocks as large as small compact cars. I pulled one summer steelhead hen out of those rocks on that day but you would never know those boulders were there during typical flows. On this particular cold and wet January day the flows were substantially higher and all three of use were working over this section with brass spoons which happens to be one of my favorite techniques for catching steelhead. One of my friends is a big time egg fisherman. I’ve never liked fishing with eggs. They are expensive (unless you acquire your own), messy, and don’t last long on the hook. After a half hour of casting spoons he switches over to drifting eggs and in a couple casts hooks up with nice hatchery steelhead hen straight out of waters that I had previously worked over with a spoon. We were all super excited to bank a fish that day and most of all I learned how important it is to go back over the same waters with a different lure. Had I been fishing by myself that day I probably would have just left without trying anything else and would have learned very little. Fishing as a team increases your odds of success and of learning something new. I highly recommend it especially for the beginning fisherman.
A winter hatchery steelhead falls victim to cured salmon eggs drifted with Yakima Bait’s Lil’ Corkies.

Fishing the Unknown - "The 4 T's"

A major inspiration for the big fish year is to challenge myself to pursue fish species that I would otherwise not. It took me several years to become a confident salmon and steelhead fisherman and yet I am still far from mastering this fishery. The variables are many and change year to year and day to day which is precisely why I enjoy it so much. However, I have hardly dabbled in the numerous other fisheries that exist in the Cascadia region.

I’ve always believed that a confident fisherman catches more fish. For a number of species I am targeting this next year I don’t have any, or at least recent, experience with. Additionally, given time and financial constraints I may only have a two day window to catch a species. For the most part confidence comes with experience on the water but there are also other ways to increase your confidence in connecting with a particular fish. Namely research.

For every minute I spend on the water I probably spend twice that doing research. First and foremost and for any species you need to determine the “4 T’s”:
Timing, Turf, Tackle, and Technique.

Timing can be broken down into two primary components diel and seasonal behavior. Diel behavior is the change in an organisms daily behavior. Some species of fish are crepuscular and active primarily at dusk and dawn whereas other are strictly diurnal or nocturnal. Knowing what time of day is best target a particular species is key and can save you time and frustration. Seasonality is another major factor in most temperate fisheries. Here in the PNW shifting water temperatures can turn off or turn on different species of fish. Additionally, with the presence of several anadromous and migratory species in the region knowing which season to target a fish species is important.

Turf can broadly be categorized into three distinct scales: macro, meso, and micro. The macro scale refers to the specific body of water. Not every body of water supports all fish and even though many lakes and rivers support a diversity of fish particular lakes and rivers tend to be more productive for a particular fish than others. The mesoscale refers to the relative location within a particular body of water. For instance in general some portions of Merwin Lake tend to be more productive for kokanee trolling than others. Lastly is the micro scale which refers to specific depths or benthic features that will hold fish. These are generally kept secret by most fisherman but a lot can be gleaned from charts and a fish finder.

Tackle and Technique are the final two components. You can be in the right place at the right time but if you do not have the right lure or technique then failure is likely. There are literally hundreds of articles in print and online that offer advice what to use catch a particular fish species. The main thing to remember is that there is typically more than one way to catch a fish and it is best to be prepared to use multiple techniques when pursuing new species.

Put the 4 T’s to good use and you will put more fish in the boat or on the bank.


Water, water, everywhere.

A major challenge of this big fishing year is keeping the financial costs associated with this quest to a minimum. A simple way to this is to fish in waters close to home. I live in Ridgefield, WA and am surrounded by water. From my bedroom window I can see the Warrior Rock lighthouse where the Columbia, the Lewis, and the Lake Rivers merge. Within a 30 minute drive or paddle from my house are numerous lakes and rivers that support a diversity of cold and warm water fisheries. In 2014 at a minimum I hoping to catch 50 species and with some luck I could get half-way there within 30 minutes from home!

  1. American Shad
  2. Black Crappie
  3. Bluegill
  4. Brown Bullhead
  5. Brown Trout
  6. Bull Trout
  7. Channel Catfish
  8. Chinook Salmon
  9. Chisel Mouth
  10. Coho Salmon
  11. Columbia River Smelt (maybe - proposed changes may allow for harvest in 2014)
  12. Common Carp
  13. Cutthroat Trout
  14. Largemouth Bass
  15. Northern Pikeminnow
  16. Peamouth
  17. Pumpkinseed
  18. Rainbow Trout (both resident coastal subspecies & steelhead)
  19. Signal Crayfish
  20. Sockeye Salmon (anadromous and land-locked kokanee)
  21. Starry Flounder
  22. Tiger Muskie
  23. Walleye
  24. Warmouth
  25. White Crappie
  26. White Sturgeon
  27. Yellow Perch