November is a great time to fish my home waters of the Puget Sound. Chum salmon come back in droves and sea-run cutthroat are right on their tails add the to that fact that fishing for resident salmon is just kicking into gear and there are a lot of great options. However November as marks the start of the nearly endless rainy season and with wet and wintry weather already setting in over the region an escape to the rainshadow region east of the Cascade Mountains is always nice. With that in mind my buddies Chris, Jonathan and I made the trek over to the dry side of the mountains to search of some ever elusive redband steelhead.
Coming over the Cascades there was a fresh coat of snow and a 26 degree temperature making it evident that winter is definitely on its way. However on the river there was much more a fall feel in the air, which was further accented by the golden tints on the hills and the salmon spawning in the riffles. With a great looking right were we started the day, it was hard not to at least break out the switch rod for a few minutes and swing some flies. However when Chris walked up to where I was fishing and in the matter of a few casts picked a small steelhead on an egg imitation behind some spawning kings, I figured that matching the "hatch" might be a better choice.
Chris starting the day out right!
After that first fish we started our float down the river and within short order were finding fish, just not the fish we were necessarily looking for.
Jonathan with a nice whitefish
For all of the smack that people talk about whitefish, I certainly can't understand what the complaints are about. They may not have quite the looks and fighting ability of trout, but they are native, aggressively eat flies and really don't fight that bad. Granted they aren't steelhead, but when you start getting to whitefish that are pushing 20" it makes for some fun fishing and breaks up a slow day of steelheading.
A little whitey for me
However we were here for steelhead and not far from where we started out drift we came upon a stretch of water that absolutely screamed steelhead. The deep slot between a couple of rapids also had a number of spawning kings holding in it and sure enough before long I hooked into a good steelhead amongst the salmon. It was a good sized fish and although I seemed like I had a good hook set on it after a five minute tussle the hook popped out and the fish victorious drifted back down into the depths.
Tight line just before a long distance release
With the score now a 1 to 1, we covered the water a bit more but it seemed like the thrashing had put the other fish down, so we continued downstream again. However we didn't get far before I hooked into another fish. At the first sight of a big white belly flashing I was thinking it was a big whitefish, but once the fish started peeling line off of the reel I had a feeling that I had been wrong about that assumption. This fish broke the water a few times, then it was straight into the backing before he decided to change gears and charge back upstream. However I had a good hook set on this one and after several more minutes of heated battle and several last minute runs, I finally was able to bring him into the shallows and land him.
The fish was a beautiful 6 or 7lb native buck that was still strong despite the approximately 500 mile journey he had made from the ocean. A true wonder of nature!
After watching the fish kick off and bolt back into the river, it was back to fishing. After just a few casts, what would you know another fish grabbed my fly. This fish was smaller and although it put up a great fight, it still didn't quite have the spunk that the previous fish had and we had a bit of an easier time landing it.
A beautiful wild redbanded buck.
After releasing this fish, the steelhead didn't seem to interested in biting, although the whitefish still managed the keep things interesting. Although it didn't seem like it either, with the short days before long the light started to fade away, however Jonathan was still due for a fish and it almost seemed like the steelhead knew it.
Jonathan hooked up, while Chris stands by with the net
Jonathan's fish put up a great battle, but was hooked well and before long he won out and slid the fish into the net. Once again it was another beautiful wild fish, this time a hen on her way upstream to her spawning grounds.
Jonathan with his fish just before release
Jonathan's fish meant the last action of the day, as the sun was setting and with winter right around the corner the temperature was dropping like a rock. However with four steelhead landed, one lost and countless whitefish it was an amazing day. For now it is back to the saltwater for me, although winter steelhead will be just around the corner now!
A Chinook wearing its "fur" coat in preparation for winter
A great end to great day!