Last week with summer coming to a rapid close and fall sneaking into the air, Colton and I made for the mountains for a backcountry trout excursion. While I had fished the lower reaches of this particular watershed several times and always been treated fairly well by the fishery, I had never made it into the upper reaches of the watershed. With a fair trek to get to the upper river and being that this area is hemmed in by canyons and rough and tumble rapids Colton and I opted for a multi-day backpacking trip.
We arrived at the trailhead early and had a nice even hike for the first bit through some second growth forest with scattered views of the surrounding peaks before the trail descended into the river valley and massive old growth cedars and firs dominated the landscape.
The uplands on the way in
We made good timing into the river but as a trail crew had pretty much taken over the camping area we had been planning on using we had to do a little hunting for our own spot. After putting in a bit of extra leg work past our original destination, we noticed a side trail down to a flat along the river and decided to look for a spot to camp.
Looking down on the river from above the flat
The trail into the flat was relatively steep, and unfortunately for me it was also guarded by some rather agitated wasps that decided to put their nest smack dab in the middle of the trail. Somehow Colton escaped unscathed, while I got a pretty nasty sting that started swelling almost right away. Apparently sometimes you have to pay your dues for fishing... Needless to say we found our campsite at the bottom, along with some nice water.
Our fishin' camp
Some old growth
Upon arriving we set up camp and made a quick lunch, but our minds were on fishing so before long we each had a couple rods rigged up and made a V-line for the river. Luckily we didn't have to go far after our hike in, to find good water as their was an awesome corner pool right next to our camp, however these fish seemed to want to play hard to get. Colton started out with dries and couldn't get any to even look at them, while I started out with a stream and got one strike from a 6-8" trout. After hiking several miles into the river then scrambling a few hundred feet down into the flat this was not a very good sign. I wish I could say things improved that day, but they didn't. After covering the first hole, we worked our way further downstream and I got a decent rainbow on a dry out of a pocket not to far below camp but the river seemed oddly fished out in the section. We probably fished downstream a good mile and got one more rainbow, but things didn't look promising. Given that it is supposed to be a catch and release fishery this was not something I would have expected. My original thought was that given that the pink salmon were running, maybe the fish all were keying in on eggs where the pinks were at. However after finding an empty packet of bait hooks and about a 6" juvenile bull trout stuck in a snag pile (alive luckily) with a baithook still in its jaw we had a pretty good idea what the problem was. The bull trout was cut loose and released from its poacher inflicted torture, but we needed a new game plan. At camp that even we discussed options for the next day, which included checking out the river upstream and hiking out and going somewhere else but decided to sleep on things.
With the light of the new day we decided to stick it out and try to get into a more remote part of the watershed, so we made for the trail upstream. This section of the river was hemmed in by cliff walls on our side of the river, but after a bit of hiking we found a bit of a ravine that led down into the river. This route was not for the faint of heart and it was several hundred feet of very steep terrain overgrown with nettles and devils club before we reach the bottom of the valley. This route was not something I would wish on my worst enemies and was something that would definitely deter most anglers and left us feeling rather battered.
At the bottom we found a beautiful river riddled ice blue pools and pocket water and lined with virgin stands of massive Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars. Apparently this untouched canyon offered the trout some refuge as it didn't take long before we found some willing 6-10" rainbows in the pocket water. While the smaller fish seemed willing enough, we still had to work pretty hard for the fish we got and Colton was the first one to find a fish of some size and managed to rise a beautiful 14" rainbow in a side channel pool.
This fish put up a great battle on his 2wt, taking line and getting a fair bit of air time as well. In the next stretch of pocketwater upstream Colton also got the first surprise from a bull trout, a little juvenile that couldn't say no to a dry fly.
Dry fly bull trout
The river in the canyon
While the fish in the pocketwater seemed willing enough to rise to dries, most of the deeper pools were a different story and at first glance seemed devoid of life. On the first on of these pools that we came upon we put decided to put our efforts into streamers however even that didn't didn't seem to get any reaction and if it weren't for Colton seeing a good sized fish cruise into the hole from the tailout, we would have assumed it was empty. After a good half hour of fishing this hole, I drifted my fly into a drop off behind a boulder and as soon as I started retrieving I felt a good resistance. My first assumption was that this was the boulder so I didn't set hard on it however a sizeable flash made me realize my mistake, but it was already to late.
We worked the hole for another twenty minutes or so and I had just told Colton that we should head upstream and rest it for later when I got my second chance as another sizable fish grabbed my fly. This fish had some size to it and put the hurt on my 4wt, but before long I was able to get the upper hand and slide a beautiful 16" native rainbow into my net.
My big streamer eating rainbow
After my big fish we headed upstream again and found fishing to remain good, hard work but good. The river was a bit fast in this stretch and required a bit of brushwacking and climbing over log jams to get between the decent stretches of water. It was in one of these log jams that I ran into a problem, as I jumped off of the last log and onto the bank, my net got wedged between my back and the log and didn't fair well from the event.
End of the line for an old friend...
I have had this net for over ten years and it has been with me every step of the way on my native trout quest and seeing it shattered was quite the blow. However I wasn't willing to abandon this old fishing buddy and will Colton fished the next hole I used some 40lb test line to make some repairs. I will say the net is no longer pretty, but it is functional again and served its purpose for the rest of the trip. About a half mile above where I got my rainbow we found a string of deep pools and I got a surprise by a little bull trout that took a soft hackle in the first pool.
A post release shot of my little bull trout
The next hole up yielded a little bull for Colton as well and while Colton continued to work this spot I headed upstream and found a little bull trout as well that I got on a dry out of a pocket. I also found the end of the line as the combo of a cliff and some deep fast water barred the way upstream just above. It was getting late at this point, so we needed to be heading back anyways so this just gave me the sign that it was time to turn around. As I got back to the pool where Colton hooked into a nice sized rainbow, that could have been the twin to the one that I caught earlier in turns of size and the battle.
Another beautiful rainbow
With Colton's big rainbow spooking that hole, we decided to head back to the hole that I had gotten my fish out of as quickly as possible to see if we could find anything else in there. To cover ground more quickly we took to a game trail and were making good time until I found bee's nest number two of the trip. This led to us making even better time as we were both running to get away from bee's however the still got me pretty good. I added another 6 or 7 bee stings my already swollen leg, which now felt like it was on fire, while Colton got away scott free again. Finally we made it to the hole that I had gotten my big rainbow out of and after just a few casts Colton found one of the other residents of the spot...
Colton's surprise 18" bull trout
Given all of the juvenile bulls that we had run into, we shouldn't have been find a fish this size in here but bulls are not the most common fish either. In typical bull trout still this fish stayed deep and made several good runs before coming in. By the time that the bull trout was swimming back into the depths, daylight was fading fast so we figured we just had time for one more hole each. Colton took the spot that he got his 14"er out of, while I opted for a hole right where we had dropped into the canyon. On my first cast it became apparent that my choice had been a good one as another good sized fish slammed my fly. This fish put up a pretty good aerial display and made me work pretty hard even with my 4wt, before coming to the net.
Another 16" rainbow
While the canyon had been hard to get down into earlier in the day, climbing out with next to no light, a few more bee strings and after fishing several miles of the stream was flat out grueling. However we battled our way out and made it back to camp just as the very last vestiges of light faded away.
The next day we had our hike out to look forward to, but we decided to check out the river further downstream and got lucky and found where the pinks were spawning. With the pinks in the area, we switched to egg imitations and fished the river Alaska style. Colton fished a deep hole while I went upstream to the next run and got a few of the smaller rainbows. When I got down to where Colton was he had hooked one larger fish but lost it, I decided to take to a seam at the upper part of the pool above where he was and was instantly rewarded with a hook up. This sizable fish turned out to be a beautifully colored 18" bull trout that couldn't say no to an egg imitation.
My bull trout
A couple casts later I hooked a larger bull, which I lost trying to keep out of some fast water but I was able to get another about 10" rainbow a few casts after that and Colton got a smaller bull. We tried another stretch above to rest the hole, but didn't have much luck so we head back to the first hole. With the hole rested the fish seemed to want to bite again and I got yet another 18" bull trout before the fish seemed to catch onto us again and we called it quits.
Given all of the canyon climbing and fishing that we had done the hike out of the valley was a bit of work, but not as bad as I would have expected. While this trip was not for the faint of heart given killer bees that had it in for me and the all out rugged terrain, the fishing was unforgettable. This fishery definitely isn't water one would expect of western Washington, but it a sign of what things can be like when you native trout in a pristine environment that requires more effort to fish then the average Joe would want to put in.