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.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another Olympic Peninsula Adventure

This week I decided to give the whole steelhead on a fly thing another whirl, so it was off to the Olympics again. Earlier in the week Clint and his dad Tim invited me out to float a couple of different rivers in their drift boat, which was an offer that I absolutely couldn't refuse. Beyond that I had been asked to help out at a restoration project in Sequim later in the week so figured that I might as well do some fishing while I was up that way.

Sunday February 15th 2009:
The first river that we fished has its origins in Olympic National Park, and as such the habitat and water quality remain in great shape throughout much of the system. We started out float early in the morning, with air temperatures sitting at a balmy 27 degrees, when I dropped my car off at the take out. Lately there really hasn't been much rain, which is very unusual for this time of the year in Washington and needless to say the river was running very low and clear. Clint and I each rigged up with both nymph and swinging step-ups, while Tim worked a jig.

A small tributary entering the river

We quickly fell into a routine of fishing nymphs while we floated through the abundant pocket water and then getting out a productive runs and side channels to cover the water better. At once such side channel I was working my way downstream, switching off between nymphing and swinging when Clint yelled from down river that he had a fish on. Seeing the bend in this rod I naturally headed down to see what he had hooked into however I was a little surprised to see a whitefish on the end of this line when I got there. Apparently a whole school was sitting in this small riffle and within a few seconds of me arriving, Clint managed to get another one on his egg imitation. At this point the school was pretty spooked from the thrashing of two of their companions, but I was still able to hook into one on my nymph rig, which I LDR'd before the school decided that they didn't want to have anything to do with what either of us were throwing at them.

Clint with a mountain whitefish on a trout bead nymphed

High stick nymphing on a braided section of the river

A little ways down the river we saw a huge coho (~15lb) holding in a pool along with a school of smaller fish, but none of them seemed to be too interested in our offerings. From that point on for the next couple of hours we didn't see anymore fish and it was just us a few eagles on the river.

A big bald eagle
A small side channel of the river (there is a bald eagle in one of the trees)

After a long stretch of 'dead' water, we finally came to a pool where we could see several fish holding. I made a couple of casts with my swinging rig and just as I was about to bring it in to change over to a nymph I got a solid tug and had a fish on the end of the line. I can't say that the fish put up the best fight, but when I got it in I was shocked to see that it was a sockeye salmon. Although sockeye are a rare possibility on the Olympic Peninsula, I never expected to catch one, let alone on a fly. The sockeye in this part of their range are known for having an unusual spawning coloration and don't generally exhibit the red color that people associate with this species of fish. What made this fish so special for me was that with it I have now caught all five species of Pacific salmon in their native waters on a fly in Washington State!

The surprise of the day for me; a hen sockeye caught on "GMOAL" fly

After catching this fish, I had a couple more takes in the pool but did land anything else. The rest of the river from that point on showed no sign of fish and the remaining part of the float was completely fishless, but was indeed a great day on the water.

Monday February 16th 2009:
We headed to a different river for the day, and were off to another icy start. In fact until the sun got on the water icy guides were quite the annoyance, and had to be cleared after every couple of casts. Again the river was way lower than it should be for this time of the year, but this time we at least knew that there were a few fish around as we spooked a decent steelhead in the first pool.

The river

Clint swinging a fly through a great looking piece of water.

However after seeing that first steelhead the next five hours or so of fishing showed no sign of any fish. This was about to change though, as about two miles above the take out Tim got a solid grab and ended up landing a nice six pound hatchery steelhead.

Tim with his steelhead caught on a black jig

The water below this showed promise as saw another two steelhead, but were unable to get any more bites and were at the take-out before we knew it.

Wednesday February 18th 2009: I started the day out helping Dave Shreffler (Dave was one of the other anglers at the winter steelhead clinic) planting some dune grass at a restoration project that he is doing up on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Sequim. Dave runs an ecological restoration and consulting firm and when he said that he could use some help, I jumped at the opportunity. This project had been to create a natural berm in place of a concrete balked to protect several homes from being damaged or experiencing erosion due to wave activity. With this method gravel and sand are still allowed to exchange with the beach, which is an important feature of sea-run cutthroat and Pacific sand lance habitat.

Planting dune grass along the berm

The planting ended up finishing up much sooner than expected, so it was straight out to the coast for a little fishing on a small cedar-stain stream. Blake and I had fished this stream on a steelheading trip earlier in the winter, but didn't end up catching anything. I was hoping to change that this time. However when I got to the stream and saw how low it was (about 1/3 of the flow on the previous trip), I knew that it was going to be a tough outing.

Like usual I brought two rods, one for swinging and another one for nymphing and worked my way through about 3/4 mile of river without a sign of fish before stopping to take a break for lunch at the edge of a deep pool. Just as I was about to finish up with my lunch a saw a boil on the other side of the pool that was most likely from a cutthroat. I switched to a black strip tease fly, which I thought might get a cutthroat's attention and made a few casts with nothing. On the next cast though I landed my fly right next to a stump that had slid into the water and it was fish on! It was evident right when I hooked into this fish that it was not the same little cutthroat that I had seen boil, as this fish was putting a serious bend in my eight weight. I managed to pull the fish around a big snag that was laying right across the middle of the pool and finally got a good look at it. This was not a cutthroat but about a 4lb steelhead and it was fighting like it was most likely a spawned out hatchery fish. I thought that I had the fish but when it was only about ten feet away, the hook popped out and the line went slack leaving me in defeat.

The pool where I almost caught my first steelhead on a fly... Oh well maybe next time...

After this I fished my way downstream covering a solid mile and a half of river, which had lots of great looking holding water, but just needed a bit more water. Once I got into the upper reaches of a canyon stretch the river started to take on a different look and had some nice deep pools.

The river at the head of the canyon

One such pool absolutely screamed steelhead, it was a long deep piece of water with submerged undercut ledges on each side and a large downed tree laying in the tail out. To make things better it sat right above a section of fast water making it ideal spot for a steelhead to rest. I started at the head of the pool and began swinging a GMOAL fly through, taking a couple of steps downstream after each cast and repeating the process. I was just about down to the tree in the water when I heard a big splash from just below the tree. I looked in the water right in front of me and saw a big steelhead of at least 12lbs darting upstream. At this point I am thinking to myself how in the world did I spook that fish when the tree was blocking the view between me and where it had been holding, when I see something else swimming up the pool. Only this thing is a whole lot bigger and not swimming like a fish at all. I took me a second to put two and two together, but I was looking at a big old beaver that had been responsible for spooking the fish. After a few seconds underwater the beaver surfaced for about a minute at which time it noticed me. This caused the beaver to slap its tail on the surface of the water before diving down to the depths again, officially spooking whatever other fish may have been holding in the pool.

The steelhead spooking beaver

After my incident with the beaver I worked my way downstream to a nice piece of pocket water, which I fished for a bit with no luck before heading up to swing a fly though the pool a few more times. However after a few casts I could see the beaver swimming across the bottom of the pool again and figured that the steelhead was either spooked or had moved on. This was as good of a sign as any for me to start heading back upstream as the sun was already starting to get low in the sky. I made a few casts in each decent looking spot for the first 1/4 mile or so just in case if the steelhead had headed upstream, but no dice. After this I put it into high gear until I got back to the pool where I had hooked the fish earlier in the day.

Right as I got the the pool, the steelhead that I had hooked earlier (or its twin) broke the surface of the water causing me to make a few more casts. I ended up throwing about ten different patterns and a hundred casts at this fish, but it didn't seem to have any interest in any of them with the swore lip that it was suffering from. It was pretty dark at this point so I had no choice but to call it quits and make my way back the car the remaining 3/4 mile by headlamp.


Clint F. said...

Great post Gary! Clint and I had a great weekend fishing the OP with you. Can't wait for some rain and then we can try it again. Congrats on landing all 5 species of WA salmon on the fly. Not many people can say they have accomplished that!


Chris S. said...

Very nice! Reports like this are what get me through the winter!

Keep the reports coming...I may finally get out next month.