Finding myself with a little bit of free time, I made plans for an impromptu camping trip to the Olympic Mountains over Sunday and Monday with my dad and brother-in-law Mike. While just getting out and camping was a big part of the draw, the river flowing through the valley is what really had me interested. Especially since my last attempt at getting in some mountain stream fishing had failed so miserably.
Due to some prior obligations on Sunday, we got out of Gig Harbor later than I would have liked and didn't end up getting up to the campground till late-afternoon. After quickly setting up camp, Mike and I headed out to try some fishing. I had heard tell of some large rainbows, cutthroat in this drainage, as well as the off chance of running across a bull trout or two as such I rigged us up with some flies that have treated me well on Olympic Mountain streams before. I was using a small streamer, while Mike put on a Jumbo John.
We first tried out some pocket water downstream of our campsite, but had no luck. I knew of a couple of great looking holes upstream of the campground though and decided that we should head up there. I found a small gravel bar on the edge of some fast deep water and started fishing with a standard downstream swing, which I have found Olympic rainbows to be very receptive of in the past. On my second cast into the hole my line stopped mid swing and I instinctively set the hook. The second that I did so, I knew that I had a good fish on as my 6wt doubled over and line started peeling off of my reel. This was a down and dogged battle, with lots of head shakes and a few strong runs but no jumps. Not very typical for a rainbow trout...
As soon as I got the fish close I saw that I wasn't hooked up with a rainbow, but instead there was a huge bull trout on the end of my line. I was shocked but extremely excited, as bull trout were the only native species of salmonid that I have not caught in Washington state. Over the past five years I have made number of trips up to the Skagit River system, which is noted for its healthy population of these fish. However had never had any luck and here while fishing for rainbow trout I finally caught one. Thankfully Mike was right there to assist with netting the bull and snapping a few photos.
The big bull trout
This was one heck of a big bull too. The basket of my net is 16" and this fish a half a net length on that, pegging it in at right around 24".
Another shot of the bull showing off his spots and colors a little better
From here we head downstream a little ways to a pool with a couple of downed old growth trees across it. At the head of the pool right under the logs I caught a small white fish, which I quickly released. Mike took a great looking seem near the base of the pool and after a couple of dozen casts he got a perfect drift and a fish came out from under the logs and grabbed his fly. As Mike brought the fish in I the colors showed that it was a decent little bull trout at about 14". Unfortunately as I went to net if for him it made one last bid for freedom and the barbless hook popped loose.
Mike fishing the pool along the log.
After hooking up with the little bull trout Mike decided to head back to camp, while I decided to head even further upstream and try out some new water. I covered a good half mile of river before finding a great looking pool. However after about a half an hour of fishing I only had one take so I decided to work my way back downstream.
Some good looking but fruitless water
A little ways downstream in another good looking pool I was swinging my fly through the middle pool while I finally got another fish. My fly had completed its swing and I let it sit in the current for about 30 seconds before stripping it in. One the second strip the fish grabbed my fly and when I brought it in I saw that I had another slightly larger whitefish.
With the light failing at this point I called it quits for the day with plans to explore some promising looking water downstream in the morning.
The next morning I woke up at the crack of dawn to a drizzily fog and made my way down river. This pool was only fishable from the far bank, so I crossed the river then brush whacked through the old growth forest until I emerged on the gravel bar at the pool. This was a classic Olympic Peninsula run, which looked like it should hold some steelhead if only they were still in this river. There was a deep slot on the far bank with some nice large boulders here or there. Over the last few seasons I have found a great technique for rainbows in this type of water, where I cast upstream and high-stick nymph the first part. As the line gets below me I though, toss a big upstream mend in the line and then allow the fly to swing across the deep slot until it gets below me. The strike can come at any part of this drift and by including the high-stick method it ensures that your fly is down on the bottom where it needs to be as the swing begins.
Good looking rainbow water
I don't know what was going on in this pool. Every three or four casts I would feel a tug from a fish, but just couldn't hook up with anything. I covered the pool twice using two different flies, but even with one fish that hit so hard it almost yanked the rod out of my hand I couldn't get the hook to stick in anything. After this I headed down even further to a similar pool where the same thing seemed to be happening. I did get a few fish to hold on a little longer including a 16" to 18" rainbow or cutthroat, but they all still managed to shake loose before I got them in. This was the last pool that I had time for though and I was sure glad that Sunday had been such an amazing day because Monday was sure a bust.