About this blog

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.

Gary

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!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Resident Coho Time

It is that time of the year, when the streams and lakes here in Washington are closing down for the season but fortunately the Puget Sound remains open. The end of the trout season heralds in the beginning of the winter's resident coho season. These coho opt out of the long oceanic journey that their migratory brethren under take and instead remain in the estuarine waters of the Puget Sound throughout their life cycle. For local fly fisherman, this means that they are available throughout much of the year.

For the last several weeks I had to cut back on my fishing time a bit in order to study for the GRE, so that I can hopefully get into grad school. I got the test out of the way last week and have been itching to get back out to chase some fish around. Monday the weather was typical for western Washington, cloudy and rainy but with only a light breeze, and there was a good outgoing tide that slacked off right around dark... Perfect conditions for fly fishing. I headed out to an old standby beach for resident coho to try my luck.

When I arrived at the beach, I found that I had it to myself like usual, so I started walking down toward a point were the fish usually hang out. On the way down to the point I saw a fish jump a few hundred feet down the beach, than another and another. As resident coho generally don't stay in one spot for very long, I knew that if I wanted to have any chance of catching any of these fish I had to get to them fast, so I did the only reasonable thing and ran for it. The fish were still jumping when I got to the spot so I placed myself slightly in front of their path and started casting like a mad man. One the first cast a fish slammed my marabou clouser and I quickly brought it in, turned it loose and started casting again. Next cast my fly barely had time to hit the water and another coho attacked it. In regular coho form, the second that the fish felt the hook he was straight out of the water and doing his best to throw my fly, but it was not to be so and after a short fight I brought him in.

A typical resident coho
The beach

After this fish, it was over and the school had moved on either in search of food or more likely due to a group of seals that were lurking about in the area. With the fish gone from this spot I move over to the point and covered the water there, hooking up with another slightly larger resident coho that was kind enough to spit my fly out before I could bring him in. After this the fishing completely died, so I decided head down to another spot that they seem to like to frequent and keep my eyes open for jumpers along the way.

I didn't find any jumpers like I was hoping along the way but when I got to the spot I did catch a small Chinook salmon. At this point the tide was slacking off, and it seemed that the resident coho had moved on, but instead of throwing in the towel I decided I hiked down the beach about a mile to another point that gets the current moving even when the tide has died down. I spent about a half an hour here and did hook up with one resident but LDR'd him. It was starting to get dark, so I figured I better head toward the trail, but one the way I finally spotted some more jumping fish and it was game on again. Once again, first cast I caught another fish and on the next cast I missed second one, but these fish were on the move so the third cast came up empty. Jumping fish kept giving away the school's position, so I took off down the beach in pursuit. I tried to get in front of the school before stopping to fish again and would get a few casts in at each spot that I stopped before the school moved past me and I had to relocate again. I picked up another fish this way and lost several others, before I finally lost the school again.

It seemed that the fishing was going to stay good for some time but the light was failing so I put on the head lamp that I keep in my vest and changed my fly out for a glow in the dark one and got back to fishing. The sun was completely down, when the resident coho returned and liked what they saw with my glow in the dark fly and I pulled one out of the group before they vanished into the darkness. With the resident coho gone, I started fishing my way down the beach hoping to find them again, but instead found another small Chinook before the weather convinced me that it was finally time to call it a night.

When I called Blake up and gave him a report of how I had done, his reply was "what are you doing tomorrow," and my reply was "fishing you in?"

Of course he was, but when Tuesday rolled around the wind was absolutely howling and we almost opted to just tie some flies instead, but somehow convinced ourselves that our spot would be sheltered from the wind. It wasn't. Me, Blake and his friend Mark arrived at the beach to find the sound looking more like the ocean with whitecaps, rollers and a crashing surf. However the fish were still there so we got to it.

Blake and Mark working the beach

Within a couple of minutes Blake had caught his first fish, and I stationed myself off of the point a saw a fish jump in between a couple of waves and made a "cast" to it. It is probably stretching it a bit to call it casting under these conditions, I had to face shore and make a short forward cast and than a high back cast and let the wind do what it would with my line. This was definitely not the most elegant cast that I have ever made, but the fish didn't care and smashed my fly. I quickly released this fish and lobbed my fly back out and immediately had another fish on. This was a much larger resident at around 17" and put on a fine show of acrobatics before I finally landed it. What struck me about this fish wasn't it's length but its girth, the pig of a fish was proportioned like a football and must have been a good 5 or 6" from the back to the belly. After releasing the fish, I watched the rest of the school jumping towards Blake amid the waves. Just like clockwork once they got to him, he caught two fish than they were gone.

An average resident coho

After this I got one more resident, and missed another before the wind got even stronger and it became risky to wade much deeper than my knees as a huge sneaker wave would come in an soak anyone who wasn't paying enough attention. With the sound looking like it was more suited for surfing than fly fishing, it was time to head home.
Me casting amid the surf