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Al Agnew

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Al Agnew last won the day on April 10

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About Al Agnew

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    Smallmouth Bass Angler

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  1. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    The Middle Fork is trout water, westslope cutthroats. I brought the fly rod along and fished for them, and they were easy to catch but small. Biggest I caught was about 14 inches, everything else was under 12 inches. There are bull trout, which get big, but I only saw a few and caught none. Once you get to the main Salmon, the water is getting too warm for good trout fishing. There is fishing around the mouths of feeder streams which dump in colder water, but as we were passing all the feeder streams at full speed, it wasn't possible for me to fish for them. The river gets a good steelhead run and a salmon run as well, but this was the wrong time of year to take advantage of it. I did catch two rainbows, possibly young steelhead, on spinnerbaits in the main Salmon in the wilderness area, but I doubt that there were enough trout to make it worthwhile fishing for them other than at the feeder creeks. By the time you get to the lower end of the wilderness section, at the Vinegar Creek Access 20 or 30 miles above Riggins, the water is definitely too warm--it was around 70 degrees at that point. It's all smallmouth from there on. It's turning into a low altitude desert river by then, even though it's in Idaho. The salmon and steelhead would do a lot better if the four mainstream Snake River dams below Lewiston were removed. They produce a negligible portion of the Northwest's energy, and were actually built partially to make Lewiston a seaport! Some grain and such is transported from Lewiston, but there are many great arguments for removing these dams. They have barely adequate fish ladders, but their biggest effect on salmon and steelhead is that they impede the downstream progress of salmon and steelhead smolts (fingerlings). Not only do the little ones get lost in the still waters of the reservoirs, but they get eaten by bass and walleye. Various schemes have been tried to fix the problem, including capturing and trucking them around the dams, but trucking them makes them even more lost and unable to find their way back once they are adults. Once, hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon went all the way up the Salmon River to Redfish Lake near its source each year. The river was far different then...not only did the fish feed the Native Americans in the area, but their carcasses and the excrement from all the critters that ate them made the canyon bottoms incredibly fertile. Now, in recent years the number of sockeyes making it to the upper Salmon are numbered in the hundreds at best. The canyons are "hungry country", not a lot of wildlife because there just isn't much to eat. We saw quite a few bighorn sheep, a few mule deer, the occasional eagle and osprey, and nothing much else except a lot of non-native chuckars. The squawfish are a cold to cool water species. They declined as the smallmouth increased. They hit spinnerbaits like a ton of bricks, fought hard for a bit, then just tried to stay deep. Interesting fish, but not terrific gamefish. Nice thing about them is that they are easy to handle...they have NO teeth, not even sandpaper like teeth like bass, and they calm down when lifted by the lower jaw, just like bass.
  2. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    OARS runs two trips like we took each year and dates are set. The other one is in June when the rivers are much higher. Didn’t want that one because the fishing wouldn’t be good. They also run shorter trips on the Middle Fork, and both sections of the Salmon. There were other outfitters running trips at the same time as ours. We’d see them from time to time. Plus some private groups.
  3. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    I’ve done the John Day three times...had one mediocre trip, others were great.
  4. Al Agnew

    2 drownings at Castlewood

    That section of the Meramec has always had the reputation of being very dangerous, but as others have said, it's not the river, it's the people using it. I guarantee you the Current at Van Buren and below is a more dangerous river as far as strong current and obstructions. It flows at least as much water if not more and is faster. But you can see the drop-offs (usually) on the much clearer Current, and if you're not a good swimmer you'll probably avoid them. There is no current or undertow on the Meramec at that level that an intelligent and prudent swimmer, good or not, couldn't avoid, or get out of. It's not like an ocean current on the beach. But there are a whole lot of so-called swimmers using the lower Meramec that are neither intelligent about it, prudent about it, or good. Hence the drownings.
  5. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    A couple more from that next to last, really hot day: Junction of Salmon and Snake rivers: A big one from the Snake: Last fish I caught, at lunch a mile above the take-out:
  6. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    Into the black canyons of the lower river...all igneous rock, not as deep as the upper portions, but really narrow and rugged: Scouting a rapid: Really good fish from the lower section:
  7. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    Nearing the end of the wilderness section: The canyon opened up as we approached Riggins: A big squawfish...they kept things interesting until the smallmouth fishing took off: First good smallmouth: Through the "civilized" section...still not bad scenery:
  8. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    Some landscape shots on the main Salmon in the wilderness area:
  9. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    Here are some photos from the trip... A couple of the Middle Fork: One from our hike up to the overlook on the Middle Fork...lots of wild country: The junction of the Middle Fork and main Salmon: Me running the first rapid after the junction:
  10. Al Agnew

    The Great floods of '93

    Spent a lot of time that summer filling sandbags in Ste. Genevieve. The thing about that flood was not only the height but the duration...the low lying parts of town were flooded for more than a month. If you lived away from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers it was no big deal unless you had to travel in the St. Louis area. We live 15 miles away from Ste. Gen, and certainly didn't have to worry about flooding ourselves.
  11. Personally, I will NOT fish any treble hooks other than the standard shape, because I KNOW the standard shape treble can almost always be gotten out with the string trick, and I've stuck enough hooks in myself in remote situations that I want to have the greatest chance possible of getting the thing out myself. Any lure that has non-standard trebles gets the hooks replaced with top quality standard trebles. I've never yet run into a situation where I couldn't get the hook out with the string trick except last year when I stuck one in the back of my upper arm where I just couldn't see it. I've gotten close to ten hooks out of myself over the years, and about that many out of other people. Mary got the one out of my arm last year with the string trick. I've never had to have a doctor work on me.
  12. Al Agnew

    Salmon River Epic

    Had to reserve space more than a year ahead of time.
  13. Dan from England, one of the participants in our trip, was being interviewed by a customs agent after he landed in Seattle, and the agent asked him what his plans were while in the United States. Dan told him he was going on a 17 day raft trip on the Salmon River in Idaho. The agent replied, "Wow, that's EPIC!" And so it was. The statistics are even epic. Put-in was a fly-in to Indian Creek on the Middle Fork, elevation about 4650 feet above sea level. Take-out more than 300 miles downstream at Heller Bar on the Snake River, elevation 820 feet. 75 miles down the Middle Fork, nearly 200 miles down the Salmon River, then the final 20 miles on the Snake. Well over 100 named rapids, up to class IV. Flow about 900 cubic feet per second at the put-in, 1500 cfs near the mouth of the Middle Fork, main Salmon doubled that flow, and the Salmon reached nearly 5000 cfs in the lower river, then the Snake was over 14,000 cfs at Heller Bar. And the fly-in was epic in a way. We met at the airfield at Stanley, Idaho for the 20 minute flight to the put-in, 24 clients and our head guide, to pile into two 10 seater planes and an 8 seater with all our gear. The flight seemed to barely clear the trackless mountains, and the plane dropped sharply into the half-mile deep canyon of the Middle Fork to approach a Forest Service dirt landing strip with a dogleg on one end between tall ponderosa pines. As the pilot twisted the plane into the curving approach, the trees and rocks appeared no more than 50 feet off the wing, and the computerized voice in the cockpit was saying, "terrain, terrain, pull up, pull up." The pilot made the little dogleg and then dropped the plane the last 10 feet onto the rutted dirt to glide not so smoothly to our waiting guides. Other than our leader, Peter, the guides had taken the rafts down the river 25 miles the day before from an access that could be driven to, the river too low to take clients up that far, so we unloaded the gear from the plane and carried it down to the waiting rafts. On this first leg, we had three passenger rafts, which also carried a lot of gear, two smaller paddle rafts, and two inflatable kayaks. The kayaks were much in demand among the kids and some of the adults in the large group, so Mary and I opted for one of the passenger rafts--I've done the paddle raft thing before, and found I don't take orders from the guide very well. Most of the group would leave us at the end of the Middle Fork, six days away, with only 6 of us remaining for the rest of the trip, so I knew I'd get plenty of chances to paddle the IK later. Besides, I was more interested in fishing. The Middle Fork is known for native cutthroat trout fishing, along with a salmon and steelhead run, so I'd packed a 5 weight fly rod and my fly tackle. I quickly found that I could fish best from the back of the raft, because the guides kept the rafts moving as fast or faster than the current, which was REALLY fast. I used dry flies, mainly hopper patterns, and it was a matter of picking a good spot, making the cast, getting a few feet of drift, and then picking up to make the next cast 50 feet downstream. I soon figured out the fish didn't like the really strong current and were mostly in small eddies along the banks, especially eddies along cliffs that dropped off into deep water. The river was almost air clear, and the fish weren't picky, mostly cuts from 8 to 12 inches; the biggest I caught was about 14 inches. It was challenging, frustrating at times because I had to pass up so much water, but fun. This trip was through OARS, the only company I found that offered the whole length of the river trips, but they aren't set up to cater to serious anglers. The Middle Fork was gorgeous, flowing through a canyon that reached nearly a mile deep, the slopes very steep and studded with big pines, which also lined the lower benches along the river. It was in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, and was roadless, though there were a few ranch inholdings and airstrips. The rapids were steep, with narrow runs between huge boulders. We hiked one day up to a hot spring and soaked in the nearly unbearably hot water, then plunged into the 50 degree water of the creek it flowed into. Another day we did a hard, steep climb up to a lookout point with an unbelievable view of mountains as far as we could see, and the river winding its way through the wilderness. We explored Native American pictographs and village sites, wondering at how they made a living in these inhospitable places, but realizing that the river once had a huge salmon run each year that the Indians depended upon. Now only a few salmon make it past all the dams between the Middle Fork and the ocean, a pitiful remnant of what once kept the river corridor fertile and fed the Indians along with the whole ecology. Lunch the last day of the Middle Fork leg of the trip was a mile above the confluence with the main Salmon, and at that point the six of us who would continue on left the others. Mary, Dan from England, Rose and Russell from Texas, all piled into Peter's raft, while Jackson and I took the two kayaks. It was my first chance to paddle the IK. We ran the last rapid on the Middle Fork, which was enough to give me some feel of how the IK handled. It was amazingly stable and handled wave trains well as long as you powered through them, and I gained confidence I could handle a lot of rapids in it. I'd gotten used to the rapids on the Middle Fork, which were tight and required maneuvering, but which I was pretty sure I could have handled in my own raft. But the rapids on the main Salmon would be bigger. As we approached the first one, Peter called us over and told us it was a straightforward run, but there would be two big, steep waves after the first sharp drop that would really punch us hard, and to be ready to paddle very strongly to get over them. He was right. I dropped over the four foot ledge and hit the first wave, which seemed to tower over me. Two hard paddle strokes and I was at the top, hesitating slightly, and then over, to drop into the trough behind it and up the second one, which was at a slight angle. I hit the paddle on the opposite the slope of the wave to turn the IK into it, one more stroke, and I was over it and into the diminishing wave train below. Good run. We met the first of our new set of guides, Zach, for the rest of the trip a few miles downstream at the Cache Bar access, where we picked up more provisions and Peter transferred from his raft into a dory. It was the first sight of a dory for Mary and me. Superficially resembling a drift boat, the dory had more rocker, was a bit wider, and had a lot of enclosed, hopefully waterproof storage space, with just cockpits for the rower and passengers. The cockpits had back support, and we thought the dory would be good for Mary's bad back, so we took the Dory along with Jackson, while Rose, Russel, and Dan took Zach's raft. But we soon found out that the back rests weren't helpful for Mary, and the exaggerated rocking motion of the dory in rapids made her motion sickness act up, so that would be our only afternoon in the dory. We rowed a few miles farther to the last access for many miles, Corn Creek, where we met the other two guides who would be rowing commissary rafts, Hannah and Maura, along with a new client, Jeff, who was rowing his own dory but paying OARS to accompany him down the river and provide the other amenities. The "main" Salmon, also flowing through the wilderness area, is one of the most beautiful rivers I've ever seen, flowing in a deep canyon with almost impossibly steep mountainsides, cliffs plunging straight down into the clear river, big pines still lining the mountainsides. But I may have made a tactical error in my fishing. I'd been told that smallmouth made it up this far and that trout fishing was mainly limited to areas around feeder streams, so I put the fly rod away and broke out my 4 piece casting rod and my smallmouth lures. In the next four days I only caught one smallmouth. I caught a nice trout on a spinnerbait. So maybe I should have kept concentrating on the trout. But squawfish kept it interesting. These things look like creek chubs on steroids, averaging 12-14 inches, with some getting bigger. They hit the spinnerbait like a freight train, fought hard for a few seconds, then gave up. But overall the fishing was slow enough that one day I decided to put the rod away and take the kayak for the day. I ran a few big, but easy rapids, and then had a problem on one. I was following Hannah in her raft, keeping to her line, when she hit an eddy and stopped. I couldn't slow down in the wave train, so I got too close, and her raft blocked my view of the run below and I couldn't see the line I needed to follow. When she got her raft out of the way, suddenly I was facing boulder sticking up five feet out of the water, the current piling into it, no way to avoid it. I hit the cushion of water on the upstream side of the sloping boulder at a slight angle, and saw an eddy off to the right surrounded by even bigger rocks. So I paddled hard off the cushion, did a brace to keep from flipping as the IK slid sideways off the pillow, and dropped into the eddy, out of sight of everybody. The IK spun in the eddy and I saw a gap in the rocks wide enough for the kayak, and paddled hard into and through it to emerge, as if by magic as Mary said, out of the rocks safe and sound. "Nice save!" Peter said. The guides only scouted six rapids before running them the whole trip. One of them was Ludwig, that same day. And when I saw it, I immediately saw what you had to do to get through it. The problem would be in doing it. You had to drop over the lip of the rapid near the left bank to avoid a big pour-over and massive hole on the right, then ride a wave train down to nearly where it crashed into a jumble of boulders, then veer right, but not too far right, because there was an even bigger barely submerged boulder with a huge hole there. If you made it that far, the rest of the run was a maelstrom of whitewater everywhere, but nothing that looked like it would stop you, you just had to handle the chaos. Yep, I knew what to do, but would I be able to do it in the confusion of the rapid? I almost chickened out, but God hates a coward, so I tightened the straps on my pfd and climbed back into the IK. It turned out to be a perfect run. I'm not sure it was because I did everything right, because the river just seemed to push me where I needed to go, but I came out the other end without even a close call with swimming. After four days in the main Salmon canyons, we reached the next access point, Vinegar Creek, where we picked up more supplies and then continued on in much more civilized water, with roads along the river as we approached the town of Riggins. But the weird thing was that Vinegar Creek marked the sudden beginning of smallmouth fishing. I caught my second smallmouth of the trip just above it, then my third, and then I was catching them regularly. Most were from 10 to 14 inches, but some reached 16 or 17. Ultimately the fishing was even more frustrating in some ways that the trout fishing on the Middle Fork had been. The guides kept the rafts moving way too fast. Indeed, we had more than 60 miles of civilized water ahead and the guides wanted to push through it in two days, so they kept to the main current and rowed like crazy. Sitting in the back of Zach's raft, I had to make very long casts much of the time, get a few feet of retrieve, and then get the lure to the surface to skip it in as fast as I could reel, meanwhile trying to decide where the next optimum spot to cast would be. The smallmouth were almost invariably right up against the banks in slower water eddies, and I had to hit within a foot of the bank to have a chance. Some of the best places were indentations in sheer rock walls that required pinpoint casts. But if I got the lure where I needed to get it, more often than not there would be a fish, or a group of fish, there. Fishing like that greatly limited the kind of lures I could use, too, and I settled upon a double willow leaf spinnerbait and my homemade twin spin as being the most practical lures to use. They worked very well the rest of the trip. We got through the civilized water and into the rugged, desert-like, black rock canyons of the lower river. Gone were the trees, other than scrub willows and bushes. The igneous rock walls, some of them columnar basalt, dropped sheer into the water in long stretches. The rapids were narrow and sharp-dropping. And it was hot. No, hot doesn't describe it. Our last camp on the Salmon, on the night of the 15th day of the trip, was the hottest place I'd ever been. We got there early in the afternoon of a day where the temperature in Lewiston on the Snake River below our take-out registered 114 degrees. And in that canyon, with no shade during a long stretch of the day, with that black rock soaking up the heat, the temperature had to be considerably higher than that. When a wind came up that afternoon, it felt like standing under a hair dryer on high speed and highest temperature. It was so dry that if you jumped in the river, your clothes and hair dried in minutes. We didn't even bother to set up a tent, we just spent most of the afternoon in the 75 degree river water, coming out briefly to eat the supper the guides suffered to produce, then going back in the water. At full darkness, it was still so hot, the heat radiating from the huge rocks that surrounded out sleeping site on sand, that we would wet our towels in the river, and then lie atop our pads nearly naked with the towels lying on our chest and stomach. We longed for the days on the Middle Fork when the nighttime temps had gotten down to 50 degrees. We came out onto the much bigger Snake River, dam-controlled, clear, with long, slow pools separated by sharp rapids. The smallmouth were bigger, but the wind was blowing upstream and I got fewer chances at them. I broke off one that hit in a big riffle corner eddy as we shot past it in the powerful current. I caught some nice ones when I could reach the banks. At our last campsite, ten miles above the take-out, I used a HiDef Craw to catch several good fish along the bank next to camp. The last day, the wind was really blowing, and I doubt if I was able to make more than 25 quality casts all morning...but I caught 12 smallies. This on a Saturday on a river where the huge, high speed western style jetboats and even several monstrous excursion boats full of 50 or more people were everywhere. What a fishery that river must be! Within sight of the take-out at Heller Bar, I was using the twin spin as we shot down a huge wave train. I was barely holding on, straddling the back of the raft, when I made a cast to the current seam between the wave train and the slower water. A big smallmouth hit just as the lure reached the big waves. I had no chance. The line broke. I took the rod apart and put it away. I sure would like to go back and fish that river right! (Photos to follow tomorrow night, hopefully!)
  14. A 20 incher is a very special fish from any Ozark stream. Over 21 and you’re getting into once or a few times in a lifetime that you get one that size. I’ve averaged about 1 over 20 for every 100 hours or 10 trips on good water over the years. Have maybe caught about 8 or 9 over 21, one over 22, in 55 years of Ozark river fishing.
  15. Al Agnew

    I’m back!

    Just got off the river...17 days on the Salmon River in Idaho, starting with a fly-in to the upper Middle Fork, down it to the main Salmon, down the Salmon all the way, ending at Heller Bar on the Snake River. Report to follow, when I get back to the house where I can download photos and type on a keyboard!

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