Category Archives: Fishing

Oven-roasted Salmon with Herb Risotto and Olive-Tomato Tapenade

Fishing for silvers off Seattle has been good for the last couple weeks, and with the larger ocean-going fish now returning to Puget Sound, it’s getting better. I lost a 10-pounder at the boat the other day. Most of the fish are the smaller resident coho, averaging four to five pounds.

Apparently there was some good action for kings earlier in the summer, too—until it got shut down—but I still think of silvers as our bread-and-butter fish. They’re aggressive (i.e. susceptible to a fly or lure), they forage close to shore, and their bright red fillets are perfect for a quick grilling or oven-roasting.

Call me a Homer, but catching salmon within city limits is one of the great things about living in Seattle. It’s a sweet feeling to get up early before work, or knock off work early, and string up the rod. Then, when you come home with a nice fish, you can say you’ve been working—you’re putting food on the table.

For this dinner, I first scanned the garden: tomatoes and herbs were going crazy. I made a simple herb risotto using mostly marjoram and oregano plus a little thyme, and both cherry and roma tomatoes went into the tapenade. The salmon was oven-roasted and served over the risotto with a dollop of tapenade on top.

Herb Risotto

6 tbsp butter, divided
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp saffron threads
1 cup arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4 – 5 cups chicken broth
4 tsp fresh mixed herbs, chopped

1. Stir saffron into cup of wine and set aside.
2. Warm chicken stock in a pot.
3. Saute onion and garlic in half the butter over medium heat until translucent.
4. Stir in rice, coating well. Allow to toast for a few minutes.
5. Add wine. Let it bubble up and absorb into rice before stirring.
6. Continue to add a ladleful or two of warm stock until rice is done. It should be both creamy and al dente.
7. Off heat, stir in remaining butter and herbs. Cover.

Olive-Tomato Tapenade

1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 roma tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tbsp capers
1/4 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
dash balsamic vinegar, to taste

1. Saute shallot and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until translucent.
2. Add tomatoes and cook until they begin to break down.
3. Add lemon zest, capers, olives, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, and add a little balsamic.
4. Reduce to low heat and cook together for a few minutes. Serve warm.

Trout Cakes

Family vacation in the Colorado Rockies is officially over and it’s time to settle once more into the daily rhythms of end-of-summer. This means taking the kids to school rather than the trout pond.

[Insert sustained grumbling.]

Back to to the vacation part. Each summer we visit family in a rural Rocky Mountain valley. It’s an outdoor paradise of hiking, mountain biking, mushroom hunting, and above all, fishing. The Rockies boast some of the most hallowed angling waters on the planet. On the drive home, I pointed out old haunts that my children will hopefully experience as they get older: the Green and the Henry’s Fork; the Beaverhead and the Big Hole. We must have crossed the Clark Fork and its tantalizing riffles a couple dozen times on our final leg home on I-90.

Most of our fishing on the nearby rivers and ponds in Colorado involves catch and release. I’ve had friendly arguments with my pal Hank Shaw over the tenets of c-n-r fishing. He calls it “playing with your food” and wants no part. As a fly fisherman, I’ve grown up with catch-and-release fishing and take the side so eloquently agued by David Duncan: in a crowded world besieged with hard resource management decisions, catch and release is a way to preserve a time-honored experience (catching a big fish), and in the process create a future environmental steward (that little kid with the huge brown and a goofy grin).

That said, let’s be real. Fishing is ultimately a blood sport. Even with effective catch-and-release technique, a few fish will die (statistics suggest fewer than 5 percent, but still). And, hey, trout taste good, too! So we always take a few trout from the pond where we fish to keep it real. My boy has been doing this since the age of two, when he refused to release a beautiful rainbow nabbed on his trusty Scooby Doo rod. My daughter is now racking up her own pantheon of memorable lunkers.

The kids kill and clean their own fish. Riley doesn’t even ask for help anymore. He enjoys nothing more than spending a morning at the pond catching trout and then bringing one home for the pan. He wields a sharp fillet knife to open the fish and inspects its stomach to see what the predator has been eating. Then he plops his freshly cleaned trout into a skillet sizzling with melted butter and has lunch finished a few minutes later. As a parent, to watch this process is to see the satisfaction of self-reliance in action.

Lots of grandchildren fish this pond, so we don’t take home stringers loaded with trout. Therefore it’s important to sometimes make a dish that can stretch the main ingredient. One day Riley brought home an average rainbow of about 13 inches and we decided to see how big a meal we could make of it. I suggested Trout Cakes. Most of my family has feasted on my Crab Cakes recipe at one time or another, and this was no different. It’s quick and easy and can be modified to taste. Trout Cakes love a bin of leftover veggies.

1 trout, cleaned
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 egg
1 dollop mayo
1 dollop mustard
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
breadcrumbs
lemon juice
olive oil
butter
seasoning, such as Old Bay

1. Brush trout all over with olive oil, place on foil in a roasting pan, and broil until barely cooked through. The meat should separate easily from backbone and skin yet still be very tender and moist. Make sure to fetch out all bones. Set meat aside.

2. Saute diced onion and red pepper in butter. Remove to large bowl. Mix together with the trout meat, mayo, mustard, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon. Add seasoning and spice to taste.

3. Form into patties or balls or whatever, and fry in butter until cakes are lightly browned on the outside.

Depending on how much filler you add, you can stretch a single pan-sized trout a  long way. We ended up getting three hockey puck-sized cakes out of the first half of the batch before refrigerating it for later. The second half yielded more than a dozen mini cakes that the adults ate as an appetizer that night with a little sriracha sauce dabbed on top.

It’s hard to deny the educational elements to all this. As with so much in life, truth in fishing is generally found somewhere in the middle. Catch and release has its place, as does catch and kill.

Camper’s Fettuccine Alfredo with Smoked Salmon & Asparagus

Any idea what this is?

Okay, let’s take a step back for a better look.

Yes, it’s my smoker. I think I may be in lurve with it. Smoked food is good food. Smoke up a whole chicken and you might never roast one again. Pork shoulder, brisket, oysters—it’s all good, as the kids say.
And nothing beats smoked salmon. This is how I eat salmon year-round. Brined, smoked, and vacuum-packed. You can keep it in your freezer for a long time, too. Truth be told, we still have a few packages left over from the epic pink run of oh-nine. This year’s run was just as big and I put more poundage away for a rainy day.
The pink salmon is an ideal fish for kids. They’re eager biters and small enough—usually around five pounds—to be landed on light tackle. This year’s run had some noticeably bigger fish. I netted one pushing 10 pounds, and my boy lost a monster at the beach.
One of my kids’ favorite camp meals is Tuna Noodle Surprise. We gussied up this classic comfort meal with pink salmon right out of the smoker, fresh fettuccine, alfredo sauce, and asparagus. 
9oz fresh fettuccine
1/4 lb (or more) smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 lb asparagus, cut into 3-inch segments
4 tbsp butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated parmesan
fresh-ground black pepper
grated nutmeg to taste
Melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan and whisk in cream. Reduce until slightly thickened. Add smoked salmon and several grindings of pepper to sauce. Meanwhile, cook pasta. Add asparagus to boiling pasta water for last minute or two of cooking, depending on thickness of asparagus. Drain pasta and asparagus. Toss in large bowl with the sauce, salmon, and parmesan cheese. Season with salt and a few grindings of nutmeg.
This can all be accomplished quite handily on a Coleman two-burner camp stove. Heck, you could make it on a single-burner stove. The salmon smokes up easier at home when you have a couple hours to kill and a six-pack of Rainier, but even that task could probably be managed on the camp stove with a sheet of aluminum foil and a few twigs of green alder. Eating well in camp is an art form, after all.

High Tide Soup

Recently I had the pleasure of hanging out with a couple mad scientists of the kitchen in Washington’s San Juan Islands. Eric (besides being an ’80s pop aficionado and rapper-in-training) is a sous chef at Blueacre Seafood in Seattle and Scott is a software developer by day and the proprietor of the restlessly inventive Seattle Food Geek blog the rest of the time. It was my job to supply these two gastronomic alchemists with foraged wild foods so they could do their culinary magic.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m mostly about comfort food, the kind you can make in your own kitchen without an arsenal of specialized tools and exotic ingredients. I don’t pretend to be a trained chef or a molecular gastronaut. But I like to eat, and I’m open to all forms of eating. On Lopez Island Eric turned me on to a soup he likes to call High Tide because it evokes the sea with all its shifting flotsam and jetsam.

Despite the “high concept” appearance, this dish is right in my wheelhouse. First of all, it takes the principles of nose to tail eating, which we generally associate with landed livestock, to the oceans, where most of our prey is still wild yet diminishing. The backbone of the soup, so to speak, is the backbone of a salmon, the sort of leftover piece that usually gets chucked in the trash if not used for crab bait. Not in my house. It was the backbone of a silver salmon that supplied the meat for the risotto Hank Shaw made at my house, and my Salmon Head Soup distinguished itself enough to be included in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook.

This time around the salmon was a pink, or humpy, as it’s also known, and its backbone was the key ingredient in a satisfyingly complex salmon broth. A quick word on pinks: at one time, when the rivers of the Northwest teemed with salmon, the pink was reviled in comparison to its more toothsome cousins, the chinook, sockeye, and silver. Now it’s the most plentiful wild salmon species in Puget Sound and demands our gustatory attention. Though not as versatile as its fattier relatives, pinks are still worthy with the right preparation.

The “meat” of the soup was entirely vegetarian—and terrestrial at that. Looking like weird sea creatures washed in by the tide, the leek bottoms and carrot tops, like the salmon backbone, are the sort of things that usually get tossed away. Shaved red cabbage completed the picture. I butter-poached these vegetables in clarified butter for a good 20 minutes or so, until the carrots were tender and the leeks and cabbage slightly caramelized with hints of brown.

It’s impossible to overstate how impressed I was by this soup. The tidal broth was a hit of umami—not too fishy, with an earthy balance of leek flavor—while the sea creatures within absolutely bursted with flavor from the butter-poaching. The carrots tasted like the best sort of stewed carrot and the leek bottoms had a toastiness that was almost as unexpected as the chewy texture of the tentacles…err…roots.

This will be a dish that I serve at the next dinner party.

The Tide

2 small to medium salmon backbones (or 1 large)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 leeks, just green tops, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
1 quart water
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil until softened. Add water and heat to a low simmer. Add the salmon backbones, leeks, and parsley. Do not allow to boil. Cook at least 2 hours. Adjust seasoning. Strain soup through colander and again through fine mesh and cheesecloth, until clear. Return to pot. Add thinly sliced rounds of leek bulb and keep warm until ready to serve. Cooking the broth at low heat will prevent it from being too fishy, while the leeks—both the green tops and white slices—will balance the flavor, amplifying the wonderfully comfortable umami.

The Sea Creatures

1 stick butter
3 leek bottoms, with roots, rinsed
4-5 carrot tops, with green nub
1 handful shaved red cabbage

Clarify the butter, then in a small sauce pan butter-poach the leek bottoms, carrot tops, and red cabbage for 20 minutes or so, until the cabbage is starting to brown at the edges and the carrots and leeks are tender. Use tongs to turn the vegetables periodically.

Plate the butter-poached vegetables in bowls and ladle broth. Serves 2.

This was just one of 10 courses that Eric prepared with Scott’s help in the islands. I’ll be posting more on this extraordinary feast in the future, when the video treatment is edited.

Resident Silvers

Over the years I’ve caught most of my salmon while standing either in a river or on a beach—I’m just too much of a cheapskate to hire a charter. Last week, though, with Hank and Holly in town, I took a rare opportunity to fish for salmon while standing on a boat. Here’s the funny thing: I was standing on a boat within sight of a public beach where I sometimes stand with rod in hand for free.

But don’t get me wrong: the action was all offshore. The boat was a charter out of Shilshole Marina in Seattle operated by Captain Nick Kester of All Star Fishing Charters and the beach was Golden Gardens. Though I didn’t actually get a chance to hoist a rod myself, I watched my boy reel in the first of two silver salmon, which was even better.

Just a week before, Riley was building sand castles with his sister a few hundred yards to the east from where we were now trolling flashers and cut-plugged herring. Most of the year the parking lot at Golden Gardens is near empty, but on sun-splashed summer days the park’s sandy waterfront overflows with Seattlites determined to experience the novelty of a day at the beach. I guess I was a little surprised to find out that more than a few salmon charters work the rips right off that beach, too.

The upside of a charter is that your chances of catching fish are about as good as they get; the downside is that you’ll be catching those fish with the aid of down-riggers, which means you’re mostly reeling. At first Riley was baffled by this unfamiliar setup. After the first rod popped and he was called to duty, he saw the plus side. It’s a fact that a guided charter using down-riggers and fishfinders takes a lot of guesswork out of fishing—and it’s also a fact that the live-wire excitement of having a salmon on the line increases exponentially on most days with such advantages.

Resident silvers (aka coho, Oncorhynchus kisutch) are fish that never leave Puget Sound. They hatch in local rivers, rear in the Sound, and return to those same rivers to spawn. While in the Sound they dine on a diet of amphipods and small bait fish, rarely attaining the size of silvers that leave the Sound altogether for the wilderness of the North Pacific. Those silvers, sometimes called “ocean hooknoses,” can be much larger, with the males displaying deeply kyped jaws.

A devoted band of saltwater fly-fishermen pesters the resident silvers for most of the year. Just about any point of land sticking into the Sound can be a possible fly-fishing spot when a combination of tides and currents brings the feeding fish close to shore. The Tacoma Narrows in particular, with its fast-moving currents, is a place where anglers gather to cast from the beach. In spring the resident silvers are trout-sized; as the summer wears on they put on weight and look more like salmon fit for a barbecue, albeit on the small side; by early fall the fish are in a feeding frenzy, a last-ditch effort to fatten up before the spawn. This is when most beach fishermen seek them out. By then the resident silvers are about as big as they’ll get, usually in the four or five-pound range, and the ocean silvers are just arriving, giving the angler a shot at a 12-pounder.

To be honest, fishing for resident silvers with all the advantages of boat, down-rigger, and bait felt a little dirty. In retrospect we probably should have asked the captain to motor a dozen extra miles out to the chinook grounds, where the fish and tackle are more suitably matched. But like a good captain, his first concern was getting his clients—which numbered two Californians prohibited by law in their own state from fishing depleted stocks of silvers—into fish.

That night we ate grilled salmon over risotto in nose-to-tail fashion. Meat from the salmon cheeks went into the risotto, as did the roe. The carcasses made a wonderful broth, some of which we used for the risotto while the rest went into the freezer. Hank had some very nice saffron on hand to tart up the risotto along with white wine, Walla Walla sweet onion, English shelling peas, and lemon zest. A fitting feast after a good afternoon on the water.

Photo at top and second from top by Holly Heyser.

Good Book

When it comes to stewardship of the seas, we’ve been greedy, irresponsible, and just plain stupid. We take too many fish, wreck habitats in the process, and feign ignorance when it suits us. Really, we could use a few old-fashioned whacks on the bottom from Sister Nature.

But being human, we don’t like being lectured to or ordered around. This is why Becky Selengut, the author of Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coastis the right messenger for our sadly diminished times. Becky (who happens to be a friend) is a chef and seafood lover. She’s also a compassionate writer with a wicked sense of humor. Becky’s not going to go all earnest on us, like so many otherwise well-meaning greenies.

Here she is on her conflicted feelings about shrimp, a poster fish for bad practices:

When I was just a wee lass, I had a thing bad for shrimp cocktail. I remember how cold and frosty that glass was; how the ice cupped a thimbleful of cocktail sauce in the middle; how five plump shrimp fanned out from the center like the orange-pink petals of a rare flower… I feel wistful about those cheap and easy shrimp cocktails, those family meals that seemed to be devoid of the modern conversations about food that are fairly commonplace today. Being an ethical eater sometimes gives me an adult-size headache.

Becky feels our pain—the pain that comes with knowledge, responsibility, and doing the right thing (not to mention the pain of being reprimanded). I fondly remember those shrimp cocktails, too. They were a treat. But no more. As Becky goes on to say, there is also pleasure in being informed and eating seasonally. Those shrimp cocktails were special, but a sustainably harvested spot shrimp pulled from the depths of Puget Sound and savored the very same day is even more special.

Becky is a knowledgeable guide in all things briny. She peddled crab-stuffed flounder rolls as a kid in New Jersey, went to culinary school, then put her degree to work in a number of Northwest eateries before becoming the “fish girl” at the famed Herbfarm Restaurant. Now she’s a chef for hire, freelance writer, and teaches cooking classes. Good Fish is her paean to what remains of the Pacific fishery. While it’s mostly a cook book, with mouth-watering dishes for sustainable species, it also shows off Becky’s wit and wisdom in the head notes and marginalia that accompany each chapter and recipe.

To wit: It wasn’t until years later that I realized sablefish and black cod are the same thing. In fact, I do believe I’ve said at a cocktail party or two that my two favorite fish were sablefish and black cod. At least I’m consistent. Or this: Arctic char is the smart, well-dressed girl in the corner of the room who’s quiet and subtle and doesn’t hit you over the head with her confidence, yet everyone in the room (especially her) knows she’s got it all going on. So true. I can personally attest to Becky’s badinage (and occasional bawdiness); I took her clam-digging and spent the afternoon between fits of laughter and perma-blush.

Back to the message. If you want to be a responsible steward of the sea, it’s time to consider dog salmon and sardines for the table. Gone are the days of blue fin tuna, Chilean sea bass (aka Patagonia toothfish), and whatever variety of shrimp the supermarket happens to carry. We need to be conscious of the seafood choices we make.

I like to think I know a few things about Pacific fish, but I’m always learning from Becky, even on familiar subjects. For instance, in her salmon chapter, she gives some buying tips that includes this useful nugget: “Look carefully at the pin bones. If you see a divot around the pin bones, it’s a sign that the fillet is old.” The images depicting fish fillets (salmon and halibut) that are undercooked, just right, and overcooked will be cherished by inexperienced home cooks looking for just the right flake factor.

A few of the recipes in the book I’ve been lucky enough to be served by the author herself, such as Jet’s Oyster Succotash, while others I just had to try. The Geoduck Crudo is light and balanced, without stepping on the big clam’s…err…neck. Scallops with Carrot Cream and Marjoram—delicate, sweet, and briny—did indeed “blow this dish right out of the water.” Others are on my to-do list: Mussels with Guinness Cream; Halibut Coconut Curry with Charred Chiles and Lime; and Dungeness Crab Mac-and-Cheese.

This is a book I’ll be going back to again and again, for inspiration in the kitchen or just to savor a fishy turn of phrase. Every piscivore should own a copy.

No Shrimp

Are you sick of my mushroom posts yet? Here’s a change of scenery: Snowbird Central, the southern Gulf Coast of Florida. This is the only truly tropical corner of the continental U.S., where white shoes and blue hair are the norm.

We went to visit the rellies, but the fish called, so we took a flyer and booked a half-day trip as a Christmas gift to ourselves. Guided fishing ain’t cheap. Yet when time is short and terra is incognita, it makes sense to pony up and learn something from the local pros.

Enter Captain Pat with his dandy flats boat and years of experience fishing the Naples backcountry. Our trip would take us into the maze of mangroves that make up the inland waterways of southwestern Florida, to the edge of Rookery Bay and the northern limit of the Ten Thousand Islands.

Just after 8 a.m., Captain Pat cut the engine and poled us into a slot where a deep, narrow cut held fish up against a line of mangroves. We baited up with shrimp and tossed our lines into the channel. Almost immediately I heard what would become a familiar refrain: “I’ve got a fish!” Riley’s pole was doubled over. He reeled in a beautiful sheepshead of 13 inches, a keeper. Food requirements met, we settled down to enjoying the sport. Riley had six fish to the boat—sheepshead, mangrove snappers, and sundry other backwater finners—before I landed a lowly catfish requiring careful release due to poisonous spines. This was met with general merriment from my fellow anglers.

“You’re more of a fly-fisherman,” my boy tried to console me. Captain Pat assured me the next spot would offer some fly-friendly water.

Indeed, the next spot was leeward where the incoming tide moved swiftly over a shallow bar adjacent to a deep pocket of jade green water. Captain Pat produced a flyrod and I happily gave up my bait rod. Second cast—bang!—fish on. A few seconds later, fish off. Several more casts and nada. The good captain examined my fly and popped on what he called a tip and what I called a cheater, a little piece of shrimp. I tossed out the ungainly thing and felt an immediate tug. Thankfully the tip was gone when I reeled in. I suggested we try a different fly rather than another cheater, something a little heavier to get down in the feeding lane, and the captain tied on a lead-eye fly that looked like a variation of a Crazy Charlie. Next cast, fish on. I put the cork to it this time and hauled in a beautiful ladyfish, crowing “Let the record show no shrimp in evidence.” This earned me several guffaws of derision from my mates and the nickname No Shrimp.

The next forty-five minutes were hot, with a fish on nearly every cast, all of them ladyfish, which are also known as poor man’s tarpon. My brother Whit and Riley had good action too, with ladyfish, seatrout, and snapper. My fly-fishing success didn’t escape notice from the boy. As you’ll recall, he’s been practicing his fly-casting this past year. I relinquished the rod and took up the video camera.

The kid continues to astound me. I’d chalk it up to beginner’s luck, but this so-called luck seems to be a recurring feature of his young angling career. He nailed fish after fish on the fly, finally turning to me with a hint of both pride and lament in his voice.

“Looks like we’ll have to share the name No Shrimp, Dada.”

Back at the dock the pelicans and egrets sensed an easy meal.

For lunch we sautéed the sheepshead fillets in butter with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper, a mixture of dried herbs, and a light sprinkle of Old Bay. Sheepshead is lovely fish, white and flaky with a mild flavor. They made an excellent sandwich on a fresh Kaiser roll with mayo for No Shrimp Sr. and No Shrimp Jr.

Into the Elwha

Say wha’? The Elwha River Valley, on the north end of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula
Last week I backpacked into the Elwha Basin in Olympic National Park to see the place before it undergoes profound change next year. You see, in 2011 the process of undamming the Elwha will begin in earnest and five species of Pacific salmon will have a chance to re-colonize a river that historically supported large fish runs. Since most of the watershed is within the boundaries the park, the habitat remains in good shape and there are great expectations for filling the river once again with fish.
With this in mind, I decided a trip into the Elwha to see the place before the dams come down would be a good thing, a way to compare the before and after. My timing looked bad, though. Local weather guru Cliff Mass was telling his blog readers that this was a week to stay out of the mountains. A dreaded marine layer was headed our way from the Pacific with a forecast of rain every day for a week. Pigheaded as usual, I hoisted my pack anyway and walked directly into the teeth of the storm. 
The rain held off and that first evening I made it as far as the Lillian River, a major tributary, and a dark, dank foreboding place to make camp. Rodents pestered my tent all night but fortunately, with my food bags hung safely from a bear wire, nothing larger. The next  day I got deeper into the valley, leaving behind the popular destination Elkhorn Camp at the 10-mile mark to penetrate another six miles up-valley to where the Hayes River meets the Elwha. It was around Hayes that I felt civilization’s shackles start to loosen—and here is an important lesson known to serious backpackers: go deep. Your destination may be labeled wilderness or national park, but the essence of the wild doesn’t kick in until you’re suitably removed from the trappings of town. In this case I was 16 miles up a trail and another dozen or so miles inside a national park boundary before the magic of the back-country began to percolate. 
And percolate it did. Beyond Hayes the trees got bigger and the forest took on an enchanted quality. A lush carpet of moss covered everything. Winds whistled down from surrounding peaks carrying with them the sounds of glaciers creaking and melting. The river brawled through steep canyons. A fallen tree across the trail was as tall as me in its prone position; someone had counted the rings and noted them on the cut: 560 years old, this tree was a sapling here a generation before Columbus set sail for the New World. 
On Day 3 I left base camp to hike another 11 miles into the valley, making for a 22-mile day. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the headwaters but the weather finally caught up to me. It rained all day and the mountains remained mostly hidden, socked in with fog. I had to settle for close-in views of the Elwha Basin and a look at a tumbling, roaring river that gouged out its banks and stacked enormous logjams of old-growth Douglas-fir like cordwood. In this way the river looked nearly perfect on the surface. But I knew that deep within those dark blue pools behind the logjams—ideal shelter for salmon fry—the currents were empty of anadromous fish. For now.

At Happy Hollow, the last shelter on the trail before it becomes a climbing route, I ran into three trekkers who had just come down from the Bailey Traverse, a famous bushwhack through a remote range in the Olympics that has never seen a designated trail. The trekkers had a fire going to dry their gear and seemed both exhilarated from their multi-day expedition and glad to be found. They had spent a full day lost in the hills and told me they were two days behind schedule and worried that a search party might be sent after them. I agreed to notify a ranger of their whereabouts on my way out.

The mushrooms were just starting to pop and they seemed to grow right in front of my eyes, the shiny red caps of Russulas emerging where there had been only moss just a few hours earlier, and hedgehogs clustering in the darkest patches of forest. I made dinner with a medley of wild mushrooms, including chanterelles, lobsters, and hedgehogs. I also caught rainbow trout and released them back into the river where they will seed the future stocks of steelhead that will hopefully reclaim the river once the dams are gone.
Trips like this got me foraging in the first place and when I reemerged on Day 5 to find my car in the parking lot, the spell of the wild was still on me. I drove back to Seattle in a daze, blissfully unaware of the traffic, neon signs, and hurly-burly of the city, at least for a little while.

First Brookie on the Fly

Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly his first. Last year Riley hooked and caught a brookie on the fly with help from his dad. But this year the kid decided nine years old was about the right age to pick up a fly rod unaided, and who am I to argue? It will be sad to finally say goodbye to the Scooby-Do rod—we’ve had some good times with that stalwart member of our family angling arsenal. Riley caught trout, bass, steelhead, and even salmon off the beach with the Scooby-Do rod but he’s ready for what he calls a big boy rod.
We practiced on the pond in Colorado while visiting his grandparents. Seeing him throw a 9-foot 5-weight rod is a little comical—he’s dwarfed by the thing—but really no matter how big or heavy the rod, it’s all a matter of timing, and Riley seems to have a pretty good understanding already of what it takes to make a good cast, even in the wind. The first fish surprised us both and after a brief tussle broke the line. We regrouped with another fly and the next fish wasn’t so lucky—it was a big rainbow that Riley released because he wanted to eat a brookie.
The third fish was the hoped-for brookie and now the fight was on. I had the film rolling when—cripes!—my memory card crapped out. Anyway, I managed to catch some of the action and completed the video with a couple stills of his catch, a nice brookie that got pan-fried within the hour.
The next day I took Riley to a stretch of the Yampa River known for its huge rainbows, a tailwater section below Stagecoach Reservoir where tiny flies and fine tippets are the order of the day. Most anglers nymph this stretch, which is to say they fish wet flies subsurface under strike indicators. I’ll nymph if I have to but dry-fly fishing—the excitement of a slashing strike at the surface—is my preference and I figured it would be a better introduction to moving water if Riley could watch the progress of his fly and see how mending his line could make a difference along with all the other skills required to successfully fish a dry fly. 
The upshot: more of those dudes hunkered over their #22 RS2s and bobbers ought to try tossing something as unassuming as a #14 parachute adams—it worked for Riley!
Ed. note: I value your comments and will respond to this and previous posts as soon as I return from a week off the grid in the Rogue River Canyon. 

Bass Master


Going native is a time-honored tradition. What’s more fun—traveling as a tourist or blending in with the locals? I choose the latter.

Which is why a sweltering spring morning in Goshen, Arkansas, found me hanging around on the limestone banks of the White River with a bunch of good ol’ boys and even more first generation immigrants, a cheap spinning rod in my hand. I was there to go bassin’.

Middle American rivers and reservoirs emptying into the Mississippi mark the pan fisherman’s Mecca. You’ve got catfish, crappies, sunfish, perch, and several varieties of bass, all vying for the pan, all tasting exceptional when fried up fresh. In my younger years, when I first discovered the pleasures of trout on a fly and its attendant rituals, I pitied the bassmasters with their jon boats and fish-finders and trucker caps. They struck me as an antediluvian species, as antiquated as the country store.

Well, these days as we drive the endless strip (getting longer every year) waiting for pavement to give way to dirt and for fast food joints to give way to fishing holes, don’t we all yearn for the dusty commerce of the country store once again? And so it is with the bassmaster, who is the backbone of angling in America. McGuane is right: When the trout are lost it’s surely time to smash the state. But when there are no more bass and no more bass fishermen we will have finally screwed the pooch once and for all.

Luckily for me my spring break with the in-laws in Fayetteville just happened to coincide with a great annual tradition for bassmasters across the tick and chigger-infested interior: the running of the white bass. There are bigger bass and there are tastier bass; rarely do you encounter a more prolific bass. The limit in Arkansas is 25 per day. Morone chrysops looks like a smaller version of its cousin the striped bass. Males are smaller than females, usually weighing under a pound; females, which follow the males upriver, might push five pounds, though a two-pounder like this one my boy caught is considered large.

I stumbled upon the white bass fishery by accident while scouting for morels. Crossing the Twin Bridges where Richland Creek empties into the White River I couldn’t help but pull over to see why so many trucks and cars lined the road. A guy with a stringer loaded with fish and a big grin clued me in. We walked down to the water’s edge to see the commotion. Anglers were hauling in fish up and down the banks. “This ain’t nothin’,” said one elderly man in a canoe. “At the peak it’s every cast.” The fish pour out of Beaver Lake impoundment on their spawning run like an angry horde, chasing each other around the riffles, slashing at lures, and putting their fierce dispositions on generous display. I talked to a few knowledgeable bassers with the heftiest stringers. Crawfish, they advised, and rubber minnow jigs. I was back the next day.

Fish Tacos

That night we made fish tacos at my brother-in-law’s place. Filleting out 15 bass was a bit of a chore for this bassmaster-in-training. Bass are bonier than the trout and salmon I’m used to, although the concept is similar. I thought about Mexico while working the fillet knife.

The best fish tacos I ever ate were prepared beachside on the Baja while a bunch of us attempted to surf our hangovers away during a bachelor party weekend. Despite the gulf’s promise of renewal, one by one we washed up on the beach feeling more unsteady than when we started, lured by the thought of stable ground and the smell of fish tacos cooked right on the spot over a camp stove. This has been my template ever since. If you try to complicate the matter, you’ll miss the point. Fish tacos should be a perfect blend of white-fleshed fish, warm tortillas, and piquant salsa. Nothing more. The preparation was so simple I’m almost embarrassed to repeat it here, but if you’ve never made your own fish tacos before it’s something you should do—so here are the basics.

1. Make a simple salsa. For instance, chop together 2 large tomatoes, 1 small red onion, 1 clove of garlic, a half-cup of cilantro, and a hot pepper. Adjust amounts to taste. Squeeze in a half lime and season generously with salt. Set aside to marry.
2. Heat flour tortillas wrapped in foil.
3. Dredge fish fillets in seasoned flour and fry in butter over medium heat until flaky.

That’s it. Now make your tacos, garnish with hot sauce, drink a refreshing beer—and think about going native.