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.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Isaak's Ranch

I love fishing for native salmonids and living in Washington State I am lucky to have so many waters nearby were native fish still manage to maintain a hold. However, not everywhere holds native trout and every now and again it is fun to just fish, even if it is for nonnatives. Recently I was able to fish a group of private lakes in Eastern Washington called Isaak's Ranch. While the fish are stocked in these lakes, they act like wild fish as they are put in small and absolutely thrive in the fertile waters. In fact these lakes are so fertile that I swear the trout need to be there just in order to control the excess levels of scuds and other aquatic organisms in the lakes. Between bouts of steelheading, Blake and I led a group of anglers on an expedition to these lakes and we will just say it was amazing!!!

Got scuds??? Yes those are all scuds....

The upper lake

While weed growth presented a bit of an obstacle, the fish were feisty, well fed, and still eager to eat. With the abundance of scuds that would coat anyone's legs that waded in to the lake, it wasn't surprising that the fish were pretty well keyed into the little critters. However, buggers worked wonders throughout the day. I think these photos will say everything....

Me with an average to 'smallish' sized Rainbow to get things going

A fat 23" bow the fell for my bugger

My big fish at 24"

Blake with a rainstorm Rainbow...

Ryan with the big fish of the day at 26"

While with any day of fishing there were the slow periods here or there during the day, but for the most part the action was fast and our smallest fish landed was a respectable 17"er with the biggest landed being a fat 26"er. Not to mention the 30" torpedo of a fish that Keith hooked into and did battle with for several minutes before being broken off. Yes I love native trout, but everyone now and again there is something about just going fishing and especially something to getting that big fish fix!

High Desert Steel

Over the last few decades the decline of anadromous fish throughout the Columbia River drainage has been a major cause for concern. Some stocks are doing better than others, but no doubt all have experienced declines. While the 1990's saw many of these stocks at their breaking point, today some have started to recover and in some instances even stabilize. Over the past weekend Blake and I made our way east of the Cascade Mountains to visit one such high desert fishery.

We made our way out of town on Thursday, but got a later start than we were hoping for, although we still managed to make it to the river with an hour to spare before dark. So naturally we strung up the rods and hit the water right away. We decided that with time running short we would just swing flies, so I put on an October Caddis pattern and started fishing. After about 20 minutes of casting and swinging flies my peaceful evening was interrupted by a strong tug on the end of my line nearly ripping my rod out of my hand. I instinctively set on the resistance and was fast into a strong fish. The fish gave me a bit of a dogged fight, doing a bit of the thrashing on the surface, but mostly holding to deeper water and doing its best to test the drag on my reel. However, this strategy didn't payoff for this fish and within a few minutes I was sliding her up into the shallows.

My first Redband Steelhead and my first landed steelhead on the swing

October Caddis.... Yummy...

For the rest of the evening we didn't have as much as another bump, but with a steelhead under my belt already things were off to a good start and any pressure there was to catch a fish was long gone.
The next morning we were on the water just as the sun was breaking over the horizon and figured that with conditions right for swinging flies we would start with that. However, after a couple of hours of swinging with only a few subtle taps, we decided to switch gears and go with some dead drifted nymphs. Blake went with his switch rod while I went with my 9'6" 6wt and a double stonefly set up.
It didn't take to long for Blake to break the morning skunk, with a little Chinook Salmon the decided a small stone fly was looking mighty tasty.

Blake's Chinook

My turn was next, but this time it was a Steelhead on the end of my line. One thing with indicator nymph fishing is that you never quite know what you are going to hook into and I just remember that my first thought upon seeing this 10+lb bruiser jump was "oh great what am I going to do with this!" The fish was more than happy to give me a run for my money too, spending as much time tail walking as in the water and heading straight into my backing. However, he also led me straight into Blake's line quicker than he could get it out of the water and using that as ammo broke both of us off. However, it was a heck of a ride while it lasted....

After re-rigging I went back up to where I had hooked into the fish, a subtle little seam several feet off of a boulder and within a few casts I had another take and got a solid hook set and it was game on again! When this fish shot out of the water I could have sworn it was the first one's twin and once again I was in for a battle. 10 minutes later and several hundred feet down the bank I finally got the better of the Steelhead, which ended up being a beautiful double red banded 30" 10lb hatchery buck.

A good fish to start the day with!

After this fish, Blake decided to head upstream and within a few minutes it was his turn with another smaller jack Chinook Salmon, finally a steelhead found its way to his fly. With the advantage of the switch rod, his battle was much quicker and within a few minutes he brought a beautiful wild buck that was just a hair smaller than my hatchery fish to shore.

Blake's wild fish

After Blake got his fish we had a good long lull in the fishing, but with fish pushing upstream a productive run isn't going to stay vacant for long. Before long my seam proved its worth again when another steelhead decided my stonefly nymph passed inspection and came rocketing out of the water. This fish was a bit smaller than the first few and my six weight was a bit more evenly matched so after a quick battle I bought a beautiful little wild Redband Steelhead into the shallows.

My first true wild native Columbia Basin Redband Steelhead

Shortly after this Blake had a good take but missed it, which was followed by good fishless hour leading us to decide it was time for a lunch break and to look at some new water. After a great lunch at a local bakery, we decided that we should see what the water upstream had to offer and headed up to a spot that had treated Blake well on a previous trip.

The river

It didn't take long for us to find a fish at this spot and within about 20 minutes Blake, who was twitching a flesh fly across a run good a good grab and a couple minutes later brought a beautiful Bull Trout to shore. I don't know what it is about  Bull Trout; their rarity, aggressive nature, unique appearance or all of the above, but they have to one of my favorite salmonids and it was an a treat to see Blake catch one of these beautiful char.

Blake's Bull Trout

With a Bull Trout in the neighborhood, we had high hopes for this stretch of river, but after covering nearly a mile of river without as much as a bump, it was once again time to move on. With the knowledge that the lower part of the river had been producing in the morning, we headed back downstream where we met up with a Mike, a customer from the fly shop that would be doing some lake fishing with us on Saturday. Mike was completely new to steelheading, so we started him out with swinging and showed him the ropes before breaking hitting the water. Blake and Mike took the run where I had gotten the fish on Thursday, while I went upstream where Blake got his wild buck in the morning. 

For the next 45 minutes things were crazy for me as this spot was apparently thick with fish, but after five good hook ups I still hadn't landed a single one. I was also preoccupied with trying to get Blake and Mike's attention so we could try to get him into a fish since they were definitely in here, but I also didn't want to give the spot up since there was some anglers upstream eyeballing it very closely. After the fifth failed hookup they finally noticed and Mike made his way to the spot. I started to work my way back to shore to meet him, dragging my line behind me when fish number 6 decided to grab. This fish set the hook on itself and I traded Mike spots as I chased the fish downstream. A few minutes later I brought the gorgeous 30" wild hen into the shallows and tailed it.

My flawless bright wild hen Steelhead

As the day wound down, I got myself one more beautiful wild fish, but unfortunately Mike would have to wait to tangle with his first Steelhead...

Saturday was to be an epic day of lake fishing and a story for another day (post coming soon!), however Sunday we were back on the river once again.

This time we had a bit more company as three of our customers from the shop, Mike, Devin and Ryan joined us on the water for their first Steelhead experiences. After a bit of a crash course on steelheading tactics, everyone hit the water and I got things going with another wild steelhead right of the bat on a small stonefly nymph. Ryan ended up having the hot stick for the day and hooked into 6, but as can happen with Steelhead, all of them ended up getting the better of him... 

After my first fish I had three others within feet of shore when they popped off, before I finally had one that decided to stick with me. However, this fish had a bit of a different fighting style than a typical Steelhead and when I got it into the shallows it turned out to be a Chinook. I was easily as excited to catch the hen Chinook as I was a Steelhead and to make things better just as I slid it into the shallows I saw Mike land his first steelhead on the fly 100 yards downstream of me.

My Chinook Salmon in her somber spawning tones

An underwater shot of the Chinook

With things slowing down not to long after my Chinook experience and a long drive home, we decided that it would best to get on the road after an amazing few days on the river.