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This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Searching for Olympic Steel

Blake and I decided to make a trip out to the Olympic Peninsula on Friday and Saturday to search for some early winter steelhead. During the previous week, the pineapple express came through western Washington and put just about every river in flood stage. In the aftermath, the rivers began to drop and clear a bit so conditions for the trip looked promising. Most years the winter steelheading gets kicking around Thanksgiving, so we were jumping the gun on things a little, but we figured that a few less fish and a lot less people was probably a lot better the battling the Thanksgiving crowds.

Day 1: Friday November 21st 2008: Blake met me at my house well before the sun was up and we hit the road. We arrived at the first stream a little after day light and scrambled down the bank to the river. The river was a little high and off color but looked very fishy, with some great looking holes and pocket water. We worked our way upstream, stopping to nymph and swing flies through every likely looking spot, but only ran into a few smolts. About a 1/2 mile upstream of the road, we came upon a nice pool, and it was here that the river showed a little bit of life.

Me nymphing the first stream

Blake was fishing downstream of me when he yelled for me to come down to check out a fish that was holding in a riffle in front of him. The fish ended up being a nearly spent coho, but as Blake was pointing at it with his rod tip, a chrome bright steelhead darted upstream between us and the coho in less than a foot of water and into the hole that I had just been fishing.

I raced back upstream to the hole and started working it with my nymph set up and within five casts watched as my line stopped and my indicator shot below the surface. Right away I thought Steelhead!! Only when the fish on the end of my line started careening downstream like a bat out of hell, it wasn't the grey ghost silhouette of the steelhead that I had been hoping for but instead the unmistakable green back of a chum salmon. The chum had grabbed my glo bug and darted past a root wad, then turned back upstream and headed straight into the tangled mess of the root wad. Luck was on my side though, as the fish decided to go though the largest opening in the snag and the only spot where my line wouldn't get caught. However my luck didn't hold and the fish made one jump along the far bank and threw my fly.

Blake swinging a fly through the chum hole

After the hook up and with the knowledge that somewhere in the depths in front of us there was a chrome bright steelhead, we worked every inch of the hole both swinging and nymphing. However the other only fish that the pool would give up was an 8" smolt that once again went for my glo bug. With us being pretty certain that the fish in this pool were not going to bite, we decided to work our way back downstream to another nice run that we had skipped over. Blake started out swinging at the head of the run, while I nymphed the mid section. Downstream of where I fishing, and in about a foot and a half of water I saw a flash. I put my next cast in this spot, and a 15" cutthroat grabbed my fly but popped off after a couple of seconds. When Blake got down to this stretch, he too had a hit from a cutthroat but didn't hook up. After covering this pool, we worked our way back to the car and got on the road to try out another piece of water.

The second river

The next river was even smaller than the first one and I had couple of nice strikes and Blake hooked into a nice cutthroat in the frog water along the bank but the fish shook loose. Waded downstream to a pool that we couldn't get around, then headed back to the car just as it started to rain.

After this we headed to one more river that we wanted to check out to fish for a couple of hours before dark. This river would end up being our favorite for trip and was full of classic runs, pools and pockets and was enough to make any steelheader drool!! It was raining when we got to the river, and we began swinging our flies through every piece of likely looking water. A few runs downstream from the car we saw a couple steelhead jump on their way upstream, but these fish were on a mission to spawn and didn't touch our flies.

By the time that we got off the river, us and all of our gear were soaked and were very thankful that we had gotten a hotel run instead of camping.

Day 2: Saturday November 22nd 2008: It rained all night but with the first light of morning, the showers began to dissipate. We decided to head back to the third river and even though we got there early it wasn't early enough as the weekend warriors were out in force. Even with the extra people though once were got a couple runs down to where we had seen the fish jump the night before we had the place to ourselves. With the rains during the night the river was up about four inches from the night before and the visibility was a little low, but conditions looked good enough. Blake and I covered this pool several times before we decided to move downstream to the next stretch.

I was working a deep slot behind a log jam at the head of the next pool with my nymph rig, when my indicator shot under the surface and slightly upstream. I set the hook, and the steelhead that had grabbed my fly took off upstream as fast as it could. The whole ordeal only lasted a matter of ten seconds before the steelhead swam into the log jam and broke me off leaving me completely speechless at what had just happened.

Blake working a run on the third river

We spent the better part of the morning working this area but as the day wore on the anglers from upstream began crowding us a bit so we decided to go check out another section of the river further downstream. A few miles below where we had been fishing the river cuts itself into a deep canyon and we figured that we would probably be the only ones crazy enough to fish this stretch so we scrambled down the hill to the river. We started out covering the water downstream, but after a few fishless hours decided to check out the area upstream of where we had come down.

Me covering some water in the canyon

A water fall in the canyon

The upper part of the canyon consisted of shear cliffs, deep pools and boulder gardens and was breath takingly beautiful. We scrambled along the cliffs as far upstream as we could go but still couldn't find any fish.

Blake working a nice looking pocket

Some pocket water in the canyon

The upper part of the canyon

After feeling confident that we had covered the water good enough that there were either no fish or no fish that were going to bite, it was time to hike out. We decided to take a different route out of the canyon, which ended up being one of the most punishing exercises that I think either of us has ever done. Things never seem to look as steep from down below, and this end up being a near vertical hands and knees climb where we were looking for anything to grab onto; ferns, branches, roots, etc... After 45 long minutes we finally made our way back to the truck and made the long drive back home.

The trip ended with no fish landed, but Blake and I both agreed that this was the most fun that we had ever had getting skunked!

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