Trout and Salmon – In the seattle surf

At midday I touched down at Seattle airport, a little light-headed after 20 hours flying from Nairobi, via Dubai. The immigration officer asked me what brought me to Washington state. Fish, I replied. He loomed me up and down. “Plenty of those around,” he said, and stamped my passport without further questions.
The girl at the car rental desk said her name was Neptune and liked my accent. She upgraded my car with a smile. The Somali girl who pointed out my vehicle in the car park said her name was Hannah. She came from Hargeisa but gave me directions to Seattle, and the ferry terminal for the Olympic peninsula.
Around noon the following day I was standing on an empty seashore in waders, casting a six-weight line and a fly called a Baby Chum into the ebbing tide. Not far out either, no further than the width of the Garden Pool on beat four at Southern. I let the fly drift in the current, swinging round in clear water.
A sea-run cutthroat trout snatched the lure and bent the rod towards the waves. Oxygenated in the clean waters of Puget Sound and fattened on abundant shrimp, squid and fish, even the half-pounders will snap you out of jet lag like electrotherapy.
I did this pretty much every dawn and every dusk and often throughout the day for about a month. There are 2,400 miles of shoreline on Puget Sound and these wonderful fish, together with all types of salmon, are plentiful and available. And a permit to fish anywhere for them costs about $50 a year. A year. I got mine at a hardware store and was fishing 30 minutes later.
That was three years ago and I’ve been going back ever since. There’s something so liberating about wading an empty shoreline and seeing Chum and Coho and King season throwing themselves around, and knowing you might just connect.

I was lucky, admittedly. I made the acquaintance early on of a professional guide called Bob Triggs who had me catching Sea-runs on my first outing, and I never looked back. We remain firm friends and fish together for fun every time I go back, which is every year. No matter how much longer either of us live, we will never scratch one tenth of the available shoreline.
To describe the beauty of Washington state is to jump feet first into the open jaws of the cliché bear trap: staggering, sumptuous, magnificent etc etc. Words don’t really do it justice. All I can tell you is that Eagles were nesting in the trees along the shore where I caught my first Sea-run and they were still there this September; you can see snow-topped mountains both in Canada and America from many of my favourite spots; Ospreys are better fishermen than I will ever be; catching a salmon on a surface lure skipping along the wave tops is like hooking your umbrella onto a passing train; crowded means one other fisherman on the beach; American fishing tackle shops celebrate and share passion, they don’t hide it or make snobbery of it; wilderness can be managed and controlled, and still feel like wilderness, and fish like it.
Nor do you need a lot of equipment; a five or six weight floating line will handle just about anything; waders are essential, but you can buy a pair for as little as $75; any tackle shop will put ten basic patterns in your box and you will catch with them. I’m listing a few shops here within striking distance of Seattle airport and Port Townsend, but that’s only because I know them. There are many more and, I am certain, they are just as helpful. U.S. motels are as cheap as $35 a night and I’ve found perfect self-catering rental homes for as little as $500 a month.

At first I fished with sunken imitations of herring chum or baby eels or squid (a favourite of mine is Bob’s famous Chum Baby) but then Bob and his friend, Leylan Miwaki of Orvis in Seattle turned me on to “poppers,” a style of surface fishing Leylan has made famous across the peninsula. You cast these into the sea and let them drift in the tide forming a wake before slowly retrieving them, or jerking them back if you want to be provocative. “The great joy of these that if you use them, you will find it if sea-runs are there, they’ll always take a look, but with sunken flies you might never get a touch and not even know they are there,” says Miwaki. Until recently he had the dream job of being the Orvis Fishing manager at the Seattle store, a job he part-managed thanks to his Iphone and frequent breaks on the shoreline he was fishing. Now in semi-retirement he’s still on the shoreline every day, casting poppers.
A guide’s a good idea. I’ve listed some of the ones I know and respect but just about anyone I met was keen to help a foreigner. Bob Triggs is great company, a great fisherman, gentleman and thinker and the “packed lunch” he provides for a day’s guiding ($350) would feed a platoon. He also has that irritating habit of hooking fish on your rod when he is showing you how to cast better.

It’s true what they say about time flying when you are enjoying yourself. On the last evening before my flight home I was back at the same place where I had started on arrival; autumn was pushing in and there was chill in the air and not a soil on the miles of shoreline I could see. I got one spectacular sea-run of over one pound that took line. When I got it back to shallow water to remove the barbless hook (it’s all catch-and-release) it was so beautifully camouflaged against the stones and shells that I had trouble seeing it. But when I held it by the stomach I could feel the enormous power that a chosen life at sea has brought the species. It was out of my hands and gone before I could say thank you, as fit and firm as any Olympic athlete. I didn’t think I’d do any better that evening and I didn’t really need too. Like John Gierach says, it’s not about the fishing trip of a lifetime, it’s about a lifetime of fishing trips. That was one. There will be many more.

Fishing report Northern Camp

I went to the Northern Camp on 27th July with Colin, Jens, Beth Gunson and Pop and Grev and a friend of Beth’s who was quite hot.

On day one I went upstream on the Gichuki and caught 2 small rainbow on a beaded Connemara and 1 on a Prince Beaded Nymph. I then went up the Mathioya where I caught 1 rainbow trout around 8 oz on a Prince Beaded Nymph. This was upstream from the bridge. I caught these in the afternoon. It was horrible foggy wet damp weather. I put these fish back.

On day two I walked quite far up the Mathioya and caught 1 fish around 10oz which I kept. It was on a Prince Beaded Nymph. The next one I caught on a Mrs Simpson. I then caught one on the Gichuki. In the afternoon we drove up to the top bridge and I fished downstream to the Camp and caught 1 fish which I kept and it was on a fly I tied (see picture). It was quite hard fishing.

 

On day three I caught 3 fish on the Mathioya. Two were on my home made fly and one was on a Prince Beaded Nymph. I returned them all.

It was lots of fun and Jens and I chased goats when we were not fishing. And we played cards because of the weather. I had a very good ghillie but I can’t remember his name.

Toby Grammaticas (12 yrs)

 

Rich rewards from an invalid’s day out

The chiropractor agreed that a couple of days walking would be of great help in healing a ruptured back muscle which had confined me pretty much to the horizontal for a couple of weeks. “Just walk gently over flat, firm surfaces and don’t strain anything at all,” was her concerned advice. I smiled, nodded, and went home to prepare my fishing tackle.

It was my birthday, after all, when excess in some forms is often thought permissible. So I went up to Rutundu cabins on the side of Mount Kenya, a place of intoxicatingly clean air, High Definition views of the esteemed mountain and a variety of fishing opportunities, all offering that promise that the further away from the main road the better the chance of catching.

The cabins are easily a couple of hours from the main road if there has been no rain and something of a slog, in parts, if there has been. The road goes through forest at first, then moorland savannah, winding and looping across hills where eland and zebra stare down at you disapprovingly for kicking up dust.

 

 

The cabins were, as ever, gorgeous in their rustic simplicity and comfort: no electricity, no digital signal, a huge fireplace and a well equipped kitchen and staff in Peter, Cosmo and Jackson who know how to unobtrusively make you at home. Peter is a mean cook, as well as a rich source of lore about flowers and trees and animals.
Yes, this is the place that Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton. The guides say the pair did catch fish as well as a wedding date. But for the plebs among us Rutundu is just a place of singular, stark beauty and a chance to hook into some seriously grown-on rainbow and occasional brown trout.

 

On our first morning we hiked up to fish the Kizito river, which runs in the gorge beside the camp. The higher you go the better the fishing is my experience. The brown trout are as shy as anything you will ever see, and you see them pretty clearly in the narrow, overhung stream where they live in large numbers. It took us about two and a half hours to get to a suitable spot to lay down our gear and fish and these brown trout are bejewelled beauties, feisty but small. There are bigger ones but you need to fish for them quite carefully and from a concealed place, and probably closer to dawn and dusk than midday. Small traditional patterns work very well. A size 12 is a pretty big lure in these parts and anything smaller and “buggy” gets a knock. Carlton, Coachman and Black Pennel worked for me.

 

It’s a hard walk up rock gorges and over savannah with one sticky bog to traverse or find a way around, and not quite what my chiropractor had ordered. But I had no back pain at all as we wound our way home in the afternoon, until I tripped and fell, gouging a hole in my hand and twisting my knee. My friends took care of the wound but the knee was very sore and I knew I would not be able to get up to Lake Alice, Rutundu’s premier water, the next day.

My friends left after breakfast for the scramble up to the lip and then down to Lake Alice, where I have fished many times. The fish can be prodigious there and come to deep lures stripped back. I felt a little wistful as they filed into the bush for the ascent with my hand strapped in bandage and my knee complaining.

 

But I resolved to fish little Lake Rutundu, which is a five-minute walk from the cabins and has a boat. I’ve never been especially lucky there although I did once land a 3-1/2lb brown which had been transplanted there as a Kizito fingerling by a former camp guide, Luka. The best fishing was a magical 20 minutes just before dark when every trout in the water seemed to be acting on that Jimi Hendrix verse: “Excuse me while I kiss the sky.”

So I wasn’t particularly optimistic when I steered the boat out through the weeds and let it drift in an early morning breeze. I fished a size 12 green-tagged black creation from Johnny Onslow’s factory and worked it as close to the weeds as I could. I was rewarded third cast with a brute of a fish, a rainbow that had the boat rocking as I struggled to net it. It weighed just over 1kg on the net’s built-in scales. Two casts later I was into a smaller fish, no doubt one of those stocked six months earlier. It came in at just under a pound.

And so the morning progressed, with me paddling into the breeze with one hand and drifting back to the bank. There were lots of takes and misses, and five more fish in the boat, the best of which weighed 1.5 kg on the scales. I returned them all.

 

My back started to ache so I decided to walk it off and went to a pontoon on the bank. Half an hour later I had another pound-plus rainbow on the same fly.
So I went back to the cabin to await my friends. They returned without landing a fish but both had takes or follows. All were tired and happy. One of them, who shall be nameless because he is a Langata lawer, writer of fish books and member of KFFC, told his companions that he would not believe I had caught any fish at all unless there were pictures to prove it. So I gleefully showed them the photos I had taken one-handed on my digital camera and which are shared here with our members.

Rutundu is a wonderful experience. If you haven’t been there you must go at least once. Even with a bad back Get in touch with:

Email: bookings@rutundu.com
Phone: +254 727 232 445 or +254 731 325 797
Website: www.rutundu.com