While the Puget Sound has been fishing good for sea-run cutthroat lately, during this time of the year it is hard to not think about winter steelhead. The only problem with this has been that November was an exceptionally wet month and virtually all of Washington's westside rivers have been blown out for the last three weeks. Over the course of this period Chris Ringlee (a fellow guide and co-worker at the fly shop) and I have been monitoring the river flows looking for a break and we finally got one this last week. With the rivers finally dropping back into shape, we decided to make the run out to one of my favorite Olympic Peninsula streams.
As with most steelhead trips, we got off to an early start and were on the road by 4:15AM, which placed us on the water just as the sun was rising. The air was crisp when we hit the water and the water had just about the perfect amount of color too it. Being that we were fishing a smaller stream, Chris and I both decided to toss nymphs although he was using his switch rod and I was stuck with my single hander. We both had a couple of takes in the first few runs, but no hook-ups so we went searching for some better water. I had fished this river last year and hooked a fish not far below where we were fishing, so we decided to see if we could find any fish in there.
Once we got to this spot, it didn't take all of that long to see that there some fish around as one rolled right in front of us within the first five minutes. With proof that there were fish in this spot, Chris and I started pounding the water and before long he hooked into a good sized fish. This fish was extremely active and seemed to be bent on spending as much time out of the water as possible. The coloration of the fish looked a bit strange and at first we thought that it was just a dark steelhead, but after the fifth jump we got a good look at it and could see that it was about a 13lb chum that had grabbed Chris' egg imitation.
Chris' chum taking flight
This chum put up a heck of a fight, but before long Chris won out and then set him free again to continue upstream. After this we hit a bit of a lull and for the next hour or so we fruitlessly covered the water and started donating flies to the snags in the river like they were going out of style. However the lull couldn't last and Chris got a good take from a steelhead but missed it. Now that we knew that there was a fish holding in this section of the river we decided to rest it for a little while and cover the pools just upstream. I covered the pool just above where Chris had the grab, while Chris opted to grab lunch. It was here that we saw one of the worst displays of low-holing fishing ethics that I have ever seen. Although I am not going to name the culprit a certain Olympic Peninsula guide snuck into the spot that we were resting, not thirty feet below me, made one cast and caught a steelhead (probably the one Chris was resting...), bonked it, made a comment about that being a "good spot" then headed off downstream. I am not one to get to upset about sharing the water, but this was just something else. If I want to fish a spot were somebody else is, it is common practice to ask permission first, not to just barge right in. I might be able to excuse this with the average fisherman, but for a guide to do this it really left a bad taste in my mouth.
Covering the water
After the incident we had to once again rest the hole, but this time kept a much better eye one it. When it did come time to fish it again, I got the first shot at it and had a good take but missed. However before I could make too more tries at running my nymph rig through the hole again, Chris hooked into another fish in the hole above me.
Chris putting the hurt on his fish
This fish didn't seem to interested in jumping like the chum hadn't but instead tried to go deep. It didn't take Chris to long to get the fish into and we were surprised to see that it was a 10 lb chrome bright wild hen coho.
After the coho fishing seemed to turn on for a while and Chris hooked up with a nice chrome steelhead that ran across the pool a couple of times before taking him right into a rock and coming off. Within about five casts of this, Chris hooked into a second larger steelhead that he had on for a few seconds but came unbuttoned. We worked the pool for another hour or so after this but before long decided that we wanted to try out some new water so we continued downstream. We covered a good 1/3 of a mile downstream and although it looked like good water, we didn't see any sign of fish so made the decision try out another stretch on the lower river while we still had some day light.
When we got to our next spot, we figured that we only had about another hour to fish before dark, so we quickly found ourselves a nice run that looked fishy and got to it. Chris covered the pool first, while I came up behind him now using a pink and purple nymph trailed by an egg imitation. I was about half way through the run and had tossed my flies into a seam behind a log when my indicator shot under the surface. I set the hook and instead of feeling the dead weight of a snag, there was the clear throb of a head shake. The fish immediately took off down stream, but proved to be no match for my 8 weight and I was able to keep it fairly well under control. Before long I got the fish in close enough to get a good look at it and could see that I had a nice about 4-5lb chrome steelhead on the end of my line.
The fish made a couple more runs and did a bit of thrashing on the surface before I pulled her into the shallows. I still couldn't tell if the fish was wild or hatchery and didn't want to drag it up on shore just in case if it was wild so instead I pulled it up onto a shallow shelf so Chris could check. This is where things went wrong. The fish was lying on its side in the water and Chris was making the check, when the fish decided to thrash and threw the hook. It sat on the shelf for a second, but before either of us could react, it slowly slide back into the current and out of sight. So technically I "landed" (it was on land at one point) my first steelhead on the fly, although I didn't get the honor of touching it or to get a photo as I would have liked to.
After my very short distance release of the steelhead, we covered the rest of the run without any further sign of fish. We did have a whole lot of day light left at this point, but fished through the next run before a lack of light forced us off of the water. All and all it was a great day on the water. We caught some fish and hooked a few others, which is more than I could ask for. I can definitely say that I will be back out there again the first chance that I can get!