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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.


Monday, October 16, 2023

The season marches on

This time of the year, it is amazing the difference that a few days makes on the river. After getting out a little over a week ago to try my luck for trout behind spawning salmon, I was able to find a half day to get back on the water once again. During my last outing, spawning had been intense, with a mix of Chinook, Pink and Chum Salmon, but just a few days later much of the spawning appeared to have dropped off. Chinook had completely died off and the Pinks that were left looked to be nearing the end of the line as well, but now the Coho had started streaming into the river in earnest. 

However, with the season of plenty winding and one of the best opportunities to pack on the pounds winding down, I knew from experience that the trout often key in on any remaining pockets of spawners. However, I have also found this time of the year to be incredibly inconsistent, with some days producing amazing results for egg eating trout, while the trout seem to avoid eggs and switch back to streamers on others. As such, I came prepared for anything, armed with three rods (egg/nymph rig, streamer rig and mouse rig), and also decided to try out a different spot, than last time with some slightly later spawners hoping that this was where the trout would be. 

Fall on the river

My intuition on the spot appeared to pay off, as I could see a number of active spawners right when I got to the river. Furthermore, as I snuck up to the first hole I could see a couple fish holding towards the tailout. This hole had a slow deep bowl behind a log jam, so I opted for my streamer rod, rigged with a black sculpin and started casting. On the first cast, a nice sized fish, which looked like a Coho chased my fly across the hole, but after that the fish seemed to know that something was up and I couldn't get as much as a look as I worked my way towards the top of the pool. With the streamer not producing, I switched to my nymph set-up and within a few casts I had a solid grab and landed my first fish of the day, a plump little steelhead smolt. 

First fish of the day - a little steelhead smolt

After quickly releasing this smolt, I got one more smolt before I hit a long stretch of slow water where a handful of Pink and Chum Salmon were either actively spawning or guarding their redds but no Trout were tI found.

A pair of salmon on their redd

As I approached the top of this stretch, the river made a 90 degree turn with a riffle dropping into one of the best pieces of water that I have seen on the river. This spot was a classic holding water and sure enough on my first cast, my indicator shot under, but I was too slow on the set and missed the fish. I put my next cast a couple feet further out and this time when my indicator plunged into the depths I was ready and found myself hooked into a nice trout. The fish initially stayed deep, but after a few moments it went airborne and appeared to be about an 18" Cutthroat. Unfortunately, after jumping the fish took off on a run and somehow managed to spit the hook. Having lost the fish, I continued to methodically work the riffle from top to bottom, but there was no more interest in what I was offering, so it was time to try the streamer.

After a dozen casts in the riffle and pool, the streamer appeared to be garnering no attention, but I decided to stick it out and continue working it downstream into a pocket against some rip rap in the tailout. I landed my first cast tight against the rip rap and noticed a shadow emerge behind my fly as I started stripping it back. I lost sight of the shadow as my fly was crossing the pocket and I had nearly stripped all of my line in when something big hammered my fly in the shallows right at me feet. The fish immediately started taking line and with several logs in the pocket my 5 WT was put to the test keeping the trout away from them. In classic Rainbow Trout fashion, this fish made several big jumps and blistering runs, before it finally tired and I netted it. 

A streamer eating Coastal Rainbow Trout

This Rainbow was a flawless gem that was every bit of 18" and as I released it I was already thinking about what was just upstream around the next bend. However, as I continued on upstream it was like somebody had flipped a switch and the spawning salmon just disappeared. In fact, after covering about a 1/2 mile of river I only spotted a single old redd, one dead Pink Salmon, and the only fish I found were a few parr that took the egg imitation.

End of the line for a Pink Salmon

With the upstream stretch not producing, I decided to turn around and try my luck downstream of where I had started. The first 1/2 of river I covered on my way downstream only produced a single steelhead smolt, before I came to a deep run that often produces some nice Cutthroat on streamers. As such, I positioned myself on the edge of a drop off and started working my streamer through the hole. Eventually, I placed an upstream cast along the far bank, just above an overhanging tree and after stripping my fly a few times a fish hammered it. Right away it was evident that this fish had some weight behind it, but it had a completely different feel to the Rainbow I had gotten earlier and when it started doing underwater rolls that I have coined as the "Coho death roll" it was clear what I had hooked into. Armed with just my 5WT against a bright Coho, this fight easily could have gone against me, but luck was on my side and I was able to keep the fish out of the wood littering the bottom and landed a beautiful ~7 lb wild hen.

A surprise bright Coho Salmon

After snapping a few quick photos, I released the Coho back to continue on with her journey to the spawning grounds, then got back to it. I placed my next cast right back where I had put the last one and after stripping my fly back a quarter of the way, once again the black sculpin pattern was hit by a savage grab and I was hooked into another fish. Once again a "death roll" indicated that I had another Coho on and while the last Coho had fought hard, this one fought even harder, putting in numerous runs before I was finally able to bring it to the net. While I had gotten a bright hen last time, this time I got a wild buck that was starting to turn fire truck red and already showing a pronounced kype.

A buck Coho starting to show its spawning colors

A headshot of the Coho

I released the buck, then continued working the run, but didn't have so much as another grab. However, once I reached the tailout of the "Coho" run, I started seeing numerous redds and active spawners and decided it was time to switch back to my nymph (egg) rig. 

A spawning riffle downstream of the Coho water

This tailout and riffle was absolutely packed with spawning Pink Salmon and within just a few casts my indicator shot under I was hooked into a decent trout that turned out to be my first Coastal Cutthroat of the day.

An egg eating Coastal Cutthroat

For the next 10 minutes, the action in the foot to foot and half deep riffle was fast and furious, but I just couldn't seem to hook up with the fish. After this happened couple of times had checked my rig to make sure there was nothing wrong, but this just confirmed that it was down to operator error. This finally changed when I fished my rig off the drop-off where the riffle went to about 4 feet deep. My indicator was nearing the end of the drift when it shot under and I was hooked into a big fish. This fish put a serious bend in my 6WT and when it jumped several times it was clear to see why, as it was a chunky Rainbow easily over 20".  I fought this big Rainbow for a few minutes and got it close to the net once, but it took off for another run but mid run, my line just went slack and it was gone. After that the riffle went quiet and it was time to move on again.

Chinook Salmon carcasses sampled for otoliths, genetics and coded-wire tags

Downstream of the riffle, the spawning dropped off substantially, although there were a few scattered Pink Salmon redds, old Chinook redds and carcasses along the banks. However, with less spawning activity, there were also less trout around and it wasn't until I hit what I am now calling the mousing run that I finally saw some activity. This stretch of river is bordered by a dense stand of Western Red Alder and with a number of them having fallen in the river or overhanging, it is a perfect spot to toss a mouse pattern. This is where I had hooked a Cutthroat on a mouse pattern over the summer and I wanted to see I could repeat the feat this time as well. As such I got my 5 WT rigged up with a mouse pattern out and started working it tight to the woody debris. It didn't take long for the mouse to catch the attention of a trout, with one chasing it across the river in an attempt to grab it. Unfortunately, I couldn't get this trout to hook up and after that first cast it refused to come back again and nobody else seemed to be interested in the mouse either.

Mousing water on the river

With the mouse only getting the attention of one fish, I switched back to my egg imitation and almost immediately hooked into a Cutthroat that managed to wrap me up on some branches in the water and get off. As I fished my way downstream towards a particularly good run, the clouds which had been building all day finally decided to let loose and a steady misty rain began to fall. This rain didn't seem to mess with the fishing at least I had a few brief hook ups, but nothing stuck until I got to the run I had been heading for. On my third cast in this deep trench of a run, my indicator shot under and I set on what felt like a hefty fish. Initially, I thought that this might be a Pink or some type of salmon, as it stayed down and dogged me, but after a minute or so the fish came up and thrashed on the surface and I was happy to see a thick Rainbow on the end of my line. After a few minutes with a couple of jumps thrown in, the 19" Rainbow finally tired and I brought the beautiful fish to my net.

A chunky native Rainbow

After releasing the beautiful native Rainbow and with rain falling in earnest I decided that it was time to turn around and head back upstream. However as it would be on my way I figured that I along the way I might as well try the riffle where I had lost the big Rainbow earlier in the day along the way.

Time to head back upstream

After trudging upstream for a solid 15 minutes, I finally made it back to the riffle and started working the shallow waters behind the spawners once again. After a couple casts I started working the zone where I found the Cutthroat earlier and almost immediately had a take but missed it. However, on the next cast my indicator shot under once again and this time I was ready and hooked into a fish. Given that I was fishing in about a foot of water I was expecting a smaller fish, but instead I found a solid 18" Rainbow on the end of my line. This time luck was one my side and despite a few jumps and long runs, I was able to keep the fish on and within a couple minutes I was netting my third nice Rainbow of the day.

A heavily spotted Rainbow

While the first two Rainbows looked to be males, this one was clearly a female that had heavy spotting across its body and a vibrant pink band that made it quite striking. After a couple quick photos, I watched her dart back into the riffle and I continued working the river. There weren't any more willing takers in the riffle, but in the tailout just upstream, I hooked into another much smaller fish yet spunky fish that looked to be a steelhead smolt. With the my hat and coat starting to soak through due to the rain and having come full circle and found another steelhead smolt, I decided that it was the perfect time to call it a day and hike the 1/2 mile back upstream to the car.

Ending the day with another steelhead smolt

By the time I reached the car, I was good and soaked but with an amazing day on the water I was happy to be back on the road again and headed home.

A wet rainy end to a great day on the water

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