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.

Gary

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fall Chumin'

Fall is a great time to fish in Washington, especially if you are not too averse to fishing in inclement weather. The biggest problem is that there are too many options, however one my favorites is chasing after chum salmon that flood into the countless small streams draining to the Puget Sound. While chum salmon are often looked down upon by many anglers due to their poorer quality as table fair, they certainly offer everything that one could ask for out of a game fish and more than some of the more respected species can claim. These salmon are brutish battlers, being the both the second largest and second most abundant Pacific salmon. Chum arrive in good numbers and go nuts when hooked. They are great jumpers with my personal record being one that jumped 9 times before coming to hand. As if their jumping ability wasn't enough, these fish can peel some serious line off of a reel and as the fastest swimming of the Pacific salmon seeing backing is a regular occurrence. So while some continue to hold prejudices against these amazing fish, I like to enjoy what I view as a world class fishery in my back yard. (Literally... a chum stream flows through the woods behind my house!)
Chum time

This year has been a bit of strange chum year, with an unusually high number of torrential rain storms throughout October, the fish have been early and in many cases have not paused long enough to be targeted in the estuaries. However with countless streams hosting these fish there is always somewhere to look.
Spot A... No chum...

My first few trips for chum where a bit of false starts, with several hook ups and even a brief run in with coho number 7 (7th hooked and lost this year...) but nothing landed. This is even with the factor of covering some serious ground, from my home streams to the Olympic Peninsula.
Spot B... No chum.... Breath taking views....
Spot C... Chum in the creeks (find the chum; hint under the tree) Big boy hooked and lost and coho lost ... Nothing to hand

However these false starts have since not been an indicator of success as the season goes and by directing my attention to the later timed runs a little closer to home things started working out a bit better. Chum will respond to a variety of tactics from stripping flies to dead drifted indicator fishing and it is always fun to sample a variety of tactics throughout the season. So the other day while fishing with Colton and Jonathan did a bit of everything, although the dead drift seemed to be the favorite on the high tide. In fact within the first half hour it resulted in two fish landed for me and two more lost.
Chum #1 a beautiful hen

Stripping flies is a bit more complicated though, as like other salmon species chum do not eat out of hunger once they get near fresh water, but instead it is more about aggression. With certain colors triggering that response better than others some times the stars just have to align right for a fish that doesn't want to eat any to get up and chase down and eat a fly. Chartreuse, blue, purple, cerise and other bright tones all seem to work well, but when one fails to get a response you can't be afraid to change things up. In the morning apparently blue was the ticket...
A release for me (#2) and a jumping chum for Jonathan (a bit of blurring to protect a sensitive run)

Chum #3 of the day for me...

Blue may have been the ticket, but chum being the battlers that they are thinned out our fly boxes a bit quicker than planned after a few break offs and several backing runs and it was back to the drawing board. When I did finally find the fly again, a chartreuse and orange prawn fished with a slow retrieve it resulted in two loooong-distance releases within 10 casts before a third fish finally broke it off.

However stripped flies have their place and once the chum pack into an area to thick, accidentally snagging fish become a serious consideration and a dead drifted fly is a better choice. As the tide started to drop again, the chum packed in and both Jonathan and I went back to indicators and for him the stars aligned and his first fly caught chum became a reality!

Jonathan's first chum!

With another three weeks on the season in the salt water it is definitely looking like its gonna be a fun fishery this year!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Great Eastside Escape

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.
Success!

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!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Till next season

The are a couple of things that I have learned while fly fishing, the first thing I have learned is that October in Washington is a very special time to be fishing. The biggest problem is settling on the options, salmon in the rivers, salmon in the saltwater, last blast of lake fishing, dries for trout in the rivers, sea-runs in the Sound... The list goes on and on, to complicate matters, just about everyone of these fisheries is at its prime during this "golden" month. So when that month starts winding down and the fall colors are in full swing, what do I do? I look to one of the least popular of these options, which takes me to my second revelation.

This would be that I am an absolute sucker for small streams. I probably spend more time fishing the vast expanses of the Puget Sound, but the little out of the way waters that nobody wants to trouble with always seem to draw me back and that I is where I wind up fishing when there are too many options available to wrap my head around. Generally speaking small streams aren't going to gain you much of any bragging rights when it comes to big fish, but I have never been one to get held up on big fish as it is. Plus the smallish trout that do typically inhabit these waters also tend to be some of the more gorgeous fish around anyways.
The creek

So with an unusually beautiful end of October afternoon and several free hours on my hands out of the blue, I made the spurt of the moment decision to head to my usual end of the stream season haunt. Timing is everything on little streams like this and with my outing occurring the day after a good rain and right at I high tide, there was at least a decent chance that some sea-run cutthroat would be following the salmon into the creek. So I got a hold of my buddy Colton and we met up at the creek to do some Alaska style egg/ bead fishing, just on a smaller scale. Due to the brush nature of the stream, my 6' 1wt was my weapon of choice, while Colton opted for a little heavier 2wt.

As always with this particular stream the effort to reward ratio was pretty evenly matched, with just enough fish around to keep us from thinking about complaining about the tight brush and tangled log jam messes to climb over and lose flies in. However with my first drift along a great looking undercut bank, the rewards spoke for themselves and in terms of beauty some of these fish are hard to beat.
A native juvenile steel-throat hybrid (naturally occurring steelhead x sea run cutthroat)

This first fish that I caught for the day really caught me off guard as it had cutthroat slashes and spotting, but many of its other traits suggested rainbow trout, especially the smoking gun orange tip on the dorsal fin. Apparently this creek's native steelhead run still hasn't quite gone the way of the Do-Do. I would have said that this was a fluke, but my next three fish were also hybrids providing me with a few explanations on some cutthroat that I had caught over that past few years at the nearest beach that just didn't look right. After that some of the stream's more pure strained cutthroat finally made there presence known and these fish apparently had a health obsession with salmon eggs.

As if I needed more proof that there were a few steelhead calling these waters home, on my last cast of the day I caught a fish that I never expected to encounter, a beautiful 10" rainbow, likely a steelhead smolt that will be heading out to sea before long.
My catch of the day a beautiful rainbow

However I didn't have long to marvel at this fish as Colton on his first cast into the hole hooked into a fish as well and that fish had a bit more size to. The 2wt rod was easily out matched by this fish which decided to run down stream nearly into the backing before turning around and heading back up the other way. Colton got lucky because there were plenty of snags for it to choose from to dislodge the hook, but instead it head more to the main channel and after a few minutes we finally led it into the net. All I have to say is that Colton picked a heck of a fish to end the day and stream season with!
Colton's sea-run
Another look at the 17" cutthroat fresh out of the saltwater

With the stream trout season closed again till next year, it is time to turn my focus back to the salt water and before long winter run steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula.