Plain and simple the last few weeks in Western Washington have been down right nasty. Since the beginning of the new year the pineapple express has moved in and we have had far more rain than we know what to do with. In fact certain areas of the Olympic Peninsula received in excess of 15" of rain just over the one week period between the 10th and 16th. As would be expected this has put a bit of a damper on fishing for steelhead lately and has resulted in several canceled trips for me. However my friend Jonathan and I had been planning a trip for the last month and a half and decided that despite the conditions we were going to go ahead with it.
I have to say that we could not have had worst timing if the sole purpose of this trip was fishing, as the day before we left the Peninsula received a whopping 3 1/2" of rain and most of the rivers rose to flood stage. As it would turn out the sole purpose was not fishing, and this being the case we brought the fly tying gear along for the ride and decided to do a bit of scouting.
Flood stage on an Olympic Peninsula River
Over the course of the day we visited most of the area's major rivers and a fair few no major drainages and found the same situation just about everywhere. Swollen muddy rivers doing their best to escape the confines of their banks. However by mid-day the rains had stopped and it looked like we might have at least one or two options the following day.
Blue skies over the angry Pacific and the Olympic coastline
With the streams still high in the morning, we met up with Jim Kerr who is one of the more knowledgeable guides on the peninsula. We spent the morning talking about fishing mostly, but also about some of the issues facing wild steelhead on Olympic Peninsula and ways that the issue might best be addressed.
After the meeting, Jonathan and I decided that we might as well go take another look a some of the places we had looked at on Friday. It was very evident that the rivers would be out of the question for a while, but we were able to find a smaller option to try out. The stream that we found was still a bit high and off color, but could be forded in a number of spots and had some awesome looking water.
Jonathan working over a fishy looking pool
Fishing was slow, but the stream was among the most beautiful that I have ever fished and in the last pool that the flows would allow us to reach I finally got a grab. I had just tossed my fly in a piece of frog water to set up for a cast into some better water when the fish struck. I set the hook, a small cutthroat came flying out of the water, an apparent sucker for egg imitations.
After covering this section of the stream we decided to head on to see if another local piece of water had dropped into shape yet. The other stream was still high but fishable, unfortunately we did not have a whole lot of daylight left so we only got about a half hour in here before it was time to head back into town and start tying flies for the next day.
With a couple dozen more flies in my arsenal, we headed back out to the water for another try at the ever elusive steelhead. Although it wasn't raining when we got to the stream, there was a 90% chance of rain on the day and we wanted to get to fishing before we had to worry about the stream blowing out. With the higher flows from the rains, we figured that we would head up a little higher to see if any fish had pushed up. After a good mile of walking it was time to hit the water and I started out with my same rig from the day before. Even though the rains had started at this point, it was evident that the stream was still dropping, as it looked to be close to a foot lower than the day before.
We covered a couple of decent looking spots, when we came one of the sweetest pools that I have ever seen. The river had dredged out a nice deep slot as it rounded a bend before a rapid, and to make thing better a sizable tributary also dumped in right in the middle of the pool.
This spot just screamed fish, and after dredging every part of the pool with my steelhead rig without a single hit, I wasn't satisfied with my results. I figured that even if there weren't any steelhead around then there at least should be a cutthroat or two. This prompted me to change tactics and go digging through my boxes for some sort of more cutthroatish pattern. I hit pay dirt in a box that I had thrown in at the last minute, when I found a couple of rolled muddlers. On my first cast into a froggier part of the pool I had a couple of taps but did hook up, so I just keep at it. I made about five casts, getting his on each one before the fish finally committed to it and I was able to get a solid hook up. The fight was nothing to really write home about with this fish and once I got him into the net it quickly became apparent why...
A beautiful but very skinny native coastal cutthroat
I think that the picture says it all on this one, as this cutthroat was among the skinniest that I have ever seen and was clearly a post spawn fish. After getting a quick photo I watched fish cruise back into to the depths, switched back to my steelhead rig and we continued downstream.
A stream side old growth Sitka Spruce
The remainder of the stream was excessively beautiful, but with the exception of one more small cutthroat, it didn't seem to want to give up any more fish. However there are some places where just being there more important than actually catching anything and this was one of those spots. I could quite truthfully have cared less if I actually caught anything on this stream and consider it among the most beautiful places that I have ever stumbled across.
One of the most beautiful places that I have ever been
After reaching a point were stream got to deep and fast to continue downstream, Jonathan and I decided to head back to the car for a quick lunch and to figure out the rest of the day. For some reason I really had the urge to go check out one more stream and Jonathan was quick to agree with that plan, so we headed down the road for one more stop.
The water still had a lot of color at the other stream that I wanted to take a look at but since we were already there we figured that we might as well give it a shot. We covered a few good holes with out so much as a tug and after an hour with the weather deteriorating we decided to cut our losses and hit the road again. While we couldn't find any steelhead the combo of cutthroat and fishing some new water more than made up for it.